Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Matthias Ruth
Material flow analysis (MFA) is one of the main tools of industrial ecology. It aims at understanding the ‘industrial metabolism’ of the analyzed system in terms of the exchange of matter and energy between system components and with the environment. It also analyses the relevant system structure and functions and the role they play in this exchange (Bringezu and Moriguchi 2001; Brunner and Rechberger 2004). In MFA the concept of a metabolism, as developed in the science of ecosystems, is thus applied to industrial systems (Fischer-Kowalski 2001). While in the beginning, industrial metabolism research was focused exclusively on studying the energy and material exchange between societies and the environment from a macro perspective (Fischer-Kowalski 2001), today MFA is also widely applied to analyze historic and prospective material flows linked to the use of specific products and technologies, and to analyze flows of materials on the corporate level. In addition to the analytic purpose of MFA in terms of gaining knowledge about the industrial metabolism, Brunner and Rechberger (2004) describe a hidden agenda of MFA, that comprises resource conservation and environmental protection as its objectives.
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