Regional Economic and Material Flows

EPA Grant Number: R828737C002
Subproject: this is subproject number 002 , established and managed by the Center Director under grant R830420
(EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).

Center: Center for Environmental and Energy Research (CEER)
Center Director: Earl, David A.
Title: Regional Economic and Material Flows
Investigators: Booker, James F.
Institution: Alfred University
EPA Project Officer: Klieforth, Barbara I
Project Period: September 1, 2000 through August 31, 2002
RFA: Targeted Research Center (2000) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Targeted Research


The objective of this research is to develop material and energy flow estimates that can be used to support calculations of life cycle impacts of industrial processes. This work seeks to provide New York State specific estimates at the 2-digit SIC level. A second objective is to provide research experience for undergraduate students by completing this work in a research seminar course.

Economic flow data available in the form of input-output databases suggest a potential approach complementing materials databases such as the World Resources Institute’s “Resource and Materials Use.” This research develops and applies a methodology which results in spatially and sectorally disaggregated life cycle estimates by supplementing existing natural resource flow estimates with economic input-output databases. The approach is demonstrated through application to selected sectors of New York state economic activity.


A Methodological Approach was used for this project. Estimates of material and energy usage in New York State were derived from existing economies and natural resource and energy databases. Economic activity was disaggregated to New York State and impacts at the 2-digit SIC level. Physical impact estimates were attributed to sectors at this level of spatial and economic detail as needed. The result is a set of material and energy intensity estimates for the 67 2-digit SIC sectors represented by the economic database.

First, direct material and energy impacts within New York State were estimated from the level of economic activity in each sector, multiplied by the estimated material or energy intensity in the sector. Second, the total impact of economic activity in any one sector is estimated from economic input-output relationships between sectors. For example, these relationships (described by a 67 x 67 set of multipliers) provide an estimate of the impacts of an activity such as purchases from food stores (SIC 54). While the stores themselves “produce” few impacts, they purchase from many sectors that do: from agriculture, transportation, and energy for example. These indirect material and energy impacts are calculated using the multipliers together with estimates of energy intensity. Finally, many if not most purchased inputs are from outside of New York State, or even from outside the nation. These imports to the state also represent material and energy impacts that result from economic activity within the state, but which occur elsewhere. Estimates of the dollar value of imports to the state are used to estimate material and energy impacts in the rest of the nation, and in the rest of the world resulting from state economic activity.

Expected Results:

Direct and indirect material impact estimates were given (for the 67 sectors) for five different categories of material flows: biodegradables, geologic process equivalents, active chemicals, wastes that received chemical processing, and heavy metals. An estimate of the economic input-material output matrix for New York State was also prepared.

Data from the agriculture and mining industries in New York State were investigated with consideration to hidden flows of materials (and therefore, costs) that may not be completely assessed through the market price of the goods. It was found that where sand and gravel are mined, the major cause of hidden flows is the loss of land itself, as an inevitable result of the mining process. In agriculture, hidden flows arise from soil erosion and other agricultural runoff from the worked fields, disposition of crop residues, and animal wastes that cannot be returned to the land, as well as from losses in the actual sale of the agricultural products.

A Life Cycle Analysis was undertaken for the top five industries in New York State making use of available data on economic and environmental impact. The specific economic and environmental indicators considered in the analysis were (1) electricity used, (2) greenhouse gases released, (3) fertilizers used, (4) fuels used, (5) hazardous waste generated, (6) hidden flows, and (7) economic purchases.

Material and energy flow estimates were applied to tracking trends in energy usage by industries in New York State over the past decade, and to investigate the relationship between financial and environmental performance for the top 45 air polluters (ranked by US EPA) in the state.

Material, energy, and environmental databases were developed to assist in providing a detailed analysis of the use of natural resources and energy by New York State industries. Databases must have (1) geographic coverage specific to New York State; (2) industries listed by code or label for easy identification; (3) a sufficiently current time period for reliable information; and (4) indicators with significance within the desired field.

Relevant Websites: Exit

Supplemental Keywords:

material flow estimate, energy flow estimate, life cycle impact, economic flow data, material impact estimate, life cycle analysis, RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Economics, decision-making, Economics & Decision Making, environmental accounting approach, economic flow data, energy flow estimates, energy consumption

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001
  • Final Report

  • Main Center Abstract and Reports:

    R830420    Center for Environmental and Energy Research (CEER)

    Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R828737C001 Environmental Impact of Fuel Cell Power Generation Systems
    R828737C002 Regional Economic and Material Flows
    R828737C003 Visualizing Growth and Sustainability of Water Resources
    R828737C004 Vibratory Residual Stress Relief and Modifications in Metals to Conserve Resources and Prevent Pollution
    R828737C005 Detecting and Quantifying the Evolution of Hazardous Air Pollutants Produced During High Temperature Manufacturing: A Focus on Batching of Nitrate Containing Glasses
    R828737C006 Sulfate and Nitrate Dynamics in the Canacadea Watershed
    R828737C007 Variations in Subsurface Denitrifying and Sulfate-Reducing Microbial Populations as a Result of Acid Precipitation
    R828737C008 Recycling Glass-Reinforced Thermoset Polymer Composite Materials
    R828737C009 Correlating Clay Mineralogy with Performance: Reducing Manufacturing Waste Through Improved Understanding
    R830420C001 Accelerated Hydrogen Diffusion Through Glass Microspheres: An Enabling Technology for a Hydrogen Economy
    R830420C002 Utilization of Paper Mill Waste in Ceramic Products
    R830420C003 Development of Passive Humidity-Control Materials
    R830420C004 Microarray System for Contaminated Water Analysis
    R830420C005 Material and Environmental Sustainability in Ceramic Processing
    R830420C006 Interaction of Sealing Glasses with Metallic Interconnects in Solid Oxide and Polymer Fuel Cells
    R830420C007 Preparation of Ceramic Glaze Waste for Recycling using Froth Flotation
    R830420C008 Elimination of Lead from Ceramic Glazes by Refractive Index Tailoring
    R830420C010 Nanostructured C6B: A Novel Boron Rich Carbon for H2 Storage