Embodied energy and carbon

Embodied energy is the amount of energy consumed to extract, refine, process, transport and fabricate a material or product. It is often measured from cradle to factory, cradle to use, or cradle to grave (end of life). Likewise, embodied carbon footprint is the amount of carbon (CO2) emission to produce a material.

Except for biodegradable plastics, plastics are made from so‐called feedstocks derived from crude oil refining and natural gas processing. About half the fossil fuel goes into the plastic itself while the remaining half is combusted to provide the energy during manufacture, meaning it takes about 2 kg of fossil fuel to produce 1kg of plastics. Petroleum holds in average 43 MJ/kg, plastic production requires about 86 MJ/kg. With about 3 hydrogen atoms for every carbon atom (15 g/mol) in the fuel consumed, the CO2 (44 g/mol) emission is 44/15 = 2.9 kg of CO2 for every kg of plastics produced.

Because different production paths consume different amounts of energy, the energy used in the production of a chemical depends on its feedstock. Chemical obtained from the cracking and distillation of petroleum or inorganic sources are called raw materials. The total energy consumed in the production is the sum of the energy inputs for itself and all its predecessors, starting from the raw material.

Energy is not only spent and CO2 released in producing the material but also in shaping it into its desired form. Primary shaping processes are e.g. casting, rolling, extrusion, molding etc. Secondary processes are e.g. welding, heat-curing, painting, coating, etc. The listed values are supposed to contain the energy and CO2 for material and processes for cable production.

The sources are:

  1. The world's leading source of embodied energy and carbon data, the Inventory of Carbon & Energy .
  2. 'Useful Numbers for Environmental Studies and Meaningful Comparisons, Chapter 1 Materials' by B. Cushman-Roisin and B.T. Cremonini (2017)
  3. 'Materials and the Environment: Eco-informed Material Choice' by M. Ashby, 2nd edition (2012)
  4. 'Carbon Footprint and Sustainability of Different Natural Fibres for Biocomposites and Insulation Material' by M. Barth, M. Carus (2015) (used for Jute)
  5. 'Environmental Impact of Membrane and Foil Materials and Structures' by J. Cremers (2014), Technical Transactions (used for ETFE)
  6. 'Sustainable Engineering and Eco Design' by Chaouki Ghenai, intechopen.com (used for PTFE)
  7. 'Life Cycle Assessment of the Transmission Network in Great Britain' by G. P. Harrison at al (2010) (used for Mineral oil)
  8. 'Material Selection in Mechanical Design' by M. Ashby, 5th edition (2018), Rule of thumb


PVC77.22.613.1(1) general type
PE81.12.042.54(1) general type
MDPE78.11.69≈LDPE (no reference found)
XLPE76.71.57≈HDPE (no reference found)
PP89.53.69(2) production 83/3.2 plus extrusion 6.5/0.49
PPLP71.34.1150/50% paper/PP, paper 50% soaked oil/rosin
PUR102.14.064.84(1) flexible foam
PS108.44.484.39(2) production 102/4.0 plus extrusion 6.4/0.48
PA135.58.797.92(2) production 129/8.3 plus extrusion 6.5/0.49
STPe81.12.04≈PE (no reference found)
POC81.12.04≈PE (no reference found)
ETFE168.010.0880% of max value or range 26.5-210, CO2 acc. rule of thumb
EVA89.02.68(2) production 83/2.2 plus extrusion 6.0/0.48
PET85.02.35(2) production 89/4.1 plus extrusion 6.4/0.48
PTFE180.07.0approx. value from figure
HFFR81.12.04no reference found, ≈PE
FRNC81.12.04no reference found, ≈PE
NR88.03.6(2) production 71/2.2 plus moulding 17/1.4
EPR140.08.3≈IIR (no reference found)
CR86.52.2(2) production 68.0/1.7 plus moulding 18.5/1.5
CSM81.12.04≈PE (no reference found)
IIR140.08.3(2) production 124/6.9 plus moulding 16/1.4
PIB88.03.6≈NR (no reference found)
OilP53.23.04paper 50% soaked mineral oil (49.9/3.09)
Mass53.23.04paper 50% soaked oil/rosin (≈mineral oil)
CJ41.83.9160% jute + 40% PP
BIT51.00.430.55(1) bitumen
SiR235.514.1(1) silicon, CO2 acc. rule of thumb
PRod77.22.61≈PVC (no reference found)
PTube77.22.61≈PVC (no reference found)
OilD53.23.04assuming similar to oil impregnated paper
Jute10.04.05(4) ≈hemp
TY56.03.5(2;3) ≈wool
Paper28.21.49(1) excluding calorific value of wood
Cu55.02.62.71(1) EU tube & sheet type
Al155.08.249.16(1) general type
Pb25.211.571.67(1) general type
S20.11.371.46(1) general type, 59% recycled content
Zn53.12.883.09(1) general type
Materials Engineering Science Processing and Design, Figure 2.10 - M. Ashby et al. (2007)