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J. Dewulf, H. v Langenhove, B. Muys, S. Bruers, B.R. Bakshi, G.F. Grubb, D.M. Paulus, and E. Sciubba (2008)

Exergy: Its Potential and Limitations in Environmental Science and Technology

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, 42:2221-2232.

New technologies, either renewables-based or not, are confronted with both economic and technical constraints. Their development takes advantage of considering the basic laws of economics and thermodynamics. With respect to the latter, the exergy concept pops up. Although its fundamentals, that is, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, were already established in the 1800s, it is only in the last years that the exergy concept has gained a more widespread interest in process analysis, typically employed to identify inefficiencies. However, exergy analysis today is implemented far beyond technical analysis; it is also employed in environmental, (thermo)economic, and even sustainability analysis of industrial systems. Because natural ecosystems are also subjected to the basic laws of thermodynamics, it is another subject of exergy analysis. After an introduction on the concept itself, this review focuses on the potentialandlimitations of the exergy concept in (1) ecosystem analysis, utilized to describe maximum storage and maximum dissipation of energy flows (2); industrial system analysis: from single process analysis to complete process chain analysis (3); (thermo)economic analysis, with extended exergy accounting; and (4) environmental impact assessment throughout the whole life cycle with quantification of the resource intake and emission effects. Apart from technical system analysis, it proves that exergy as a tool in environmental impact analysis may be the most mature field of application, particularly with respect to resource and efficiency accounting, one of themajorchallengesinthedevelopmentofsustainabletechnology. Far less mature is the exergy analysis of natural ecosystems and the coupling with economic analysis, where a lively debate is presently going on about the actual merits of an exergybased approach.

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