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What is a Material Flow Analysis?

Material Flow Analysis considers data from all resource flows – including water & energy – and collects information regarding their impact on our environment and economy.

Material Flow Analysis (MFA) – a definition

An Energy and Material Flow Analysis (MFA) is the target-oriented, responsible, and efficient analyzing of material and substance flows within your production systems.

As part of the Material Flow Management (MFM) the aim is to use natural resources sparingly and to create a sustainable production. A distinction is made between the material flow management on a national or regional level, which focus more on creating ecologically sustainable cycles with the aim of environmental protection and efficient use of resources. Whereas in industrial or operational material flow management the consideration of energy and material flows should contribute to the optimization within production systems.

Within the framework of material flow management, one also works with the instrument of Material Flow Analysis (MFA). Material Flow Analyses have the goal of mapping, analyzing and evaluating all flows within a company. The focus is on energy and substance flows and their effects on the environment.

The origin of the Material Flow Analysis (MFA) is to be found in waste management, since it became necessary to close cycles and reduce the amount of waste. The approach of Material Flow Analysis (MFA) is now established in many industries and is becoming more and more popular.

Types of MFA

National & regional MFAs

  • Creation of sustainable cycles
  • Environmental protection and material efficiency at country level
  • Increase in regional value added
  • Promotion of new technologies and projects to reduce environmental pollution

Operational MFAs

  • Optimization of production processes
  • Increased energy and material efficiency
  • Reduction of operating costs
  • Avoidance and reduction of emissions and wastes
Material Flow Analysis Definition

System boundaries & Differences in consideration

  • Spatial-material
    The spatial-material flow management deals with material  flow systems on a global, national level, e.g. with the global CO2 budget. In order to implement this approach, however, more concrete environmental policy requirements would be necessary, as would a closer integration of government, industry and NGOs.
  • Inter-company and stakeholder-related ➠ Regional MFA
    Here the initiative comes from economic actors, e.g. municipalities, regional business development agencies or associations. For example, certain material flows from different companies in a region or from companies along a value chain are considered. More and more networks of this kind are emerging because it is a very promising approach.
  • Operational-process-related:
    Operational-process-related material flow management describes the balancing and optimization of the ecologically relevant material and energy flows of an individual process, process network or an entire company. Internal material flow management can thus also be described as process-related, since the focus is on the analysis and optimization of production systems.
  • Product-oriented ➠ Product life cycle assessment
    Product-oriented material flow management comprises the ecological analysis and optimization of a product. It is also known as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) because it covers the entire life cycle from cradle to grave in terms of environmental impact.
Material Flow Analysis

Development of Material Flow Management

Material Flow Management is becoming more and more important as we use up the resources of our planet and companies increasingly reduce the vertical range of manufacture, thus raising material costs.  Therefore, companies are more and more interested in increasing resource efficiency systems. Previous cost-cutting measures have largely focused on personnel costs or on more efficient process organization but have not optimized the sustainable use of non-renewable raw resources and their material flows. There is great potential for improvement, particularly in terms of saving energy and environmentally friendly waste management and the disposal of the materials used.

Therefore, the focus in ecologically motivated energy and material flow management is on the development of a system that promotes environmental protection. It aims for better waste management, the reduction of waste water, soil protection, decrease of substance disposal, and development of renewable energy solutions; the end goal is to achieve so-called "cleaner production" in order to protect our environment. The Material Flow Analysis is the key tool to this endeavor. Only by systematically inspecting and improving our material flows a "cleaner production" is achievable.

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