Material and Carbon Footprints of Machinery Capital

Jiang M.,*  Wang R., Wood R., Rasul K., Zhu B., Hertwich E., 2023 Material and Carbon Footprints of Machinery Capital, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2023, :November 21, 2023, 


Machinery and equipment, integral as technology-specific capital goods, play a dual role in climate change: it acts as both a mitigator and an exacerbator due to its carbon-intensive life cycle. Despite their importance, current climate mitigation analyses often overlook these items, leaving a gap in comprehensive analyses of their material stock and environmental impacts. To address this, our research integrates input–output analysis (IOA) with dynamic material flow analysis (d-MFA) to assess the carbon and material footprints of machinery. It finds that in 2019, machinery production required 30% of global metal production and 8% of global carbon emissions. Between 2000 and 2019, the metal footprint of the stock of machinery grew twice as fast as the economy. To illustrate the global implications and scale, we spotlight key countries. China’s rise in machinery material stock is noteworthy, surpassing the United States in 2008 in total amount and achieving half of the US per capita level by 2019. Our study also contrasts economic depreciation─a value-centric metric─with the tangible lifespan of machinery, revealing how much the physical size of the capital stock exceeds its book values. As physical machinery stocks saturate, new machinery can increasingly be built from metals recycled from retired machinery.

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