Why did I read this book?
I was looking for a fact-based book discussing the transformation of heavy industry, basically a more detailed and history-based version of Marc Andreessen’s article “Software is eating the world.”
What do I think of the book?
Resource Revolution presents insightful examples of individuals and companies that have driven resource productivity through technology, design, and business models, such as George Mitchell, the inventor of fracking and DIRTT, a modular furniture-producing company. The book also includes many insightful graphs, as you would expect from a book written by McKinsey managers, e.g., on the costs of solar PV compared to grid electricity; the items individuals in the Western world spend their money on; and the wealth created by industrialists in the last two centuries.
Five principles to honor to play a role in resource revolutions:
1. Find substitutes for scarce resources. Examples: Hampton Creek Foods creates the chemical ingredients of a chicken’s egg, without needing chickens and the corn that is the primary feedstock for hens; Tesla uses electricity to power cars, eliminating the need for oil.
2. Eliminate waste, from production through end use. Example: rather than extruding the body of my laptop from a block of aluminum, and wasting at least half of the material, you can use “additive manufacturing”—printing layer by layer as 3D-printers do.
3. Increase circularity: upgrade, reuse, or recycle products. Example: buy e-waste and extract valuable metals, e.g., gold, copper, aluminum, from it.
4. Optimize efficiency or use. Examples are found in almost every sector with a less-than-full use of capital: sharing unused homes with airbnb, sharing unused cars using Lyft or ZipCar, or sharing tools using peerby.
5. “Virtualize” physical products, services, and processes. Example: the drones now used by the U.S. Department of Defense that replace human pilots in planes, eliminating not only threat of human lives, but also the weight of the pilot in planes and support systems like oxygen supply, instrumentation, and escape systems.
Anecdotes or passages worth sharing:
“Combining information technology, nanoscale materials science, and detailed understanding of biology with industrial technology and infrastructure yields substantial productivity increases.”
“the average European today is some thirteen times as well off as his counterpart in 1750.”
“the company [ATMI] recognized that e-waste contains 100 times as much gold as the best ore in the world […] and developed a proprietary process to extract it.”
“Companies must systematically look at resource opportunities […]. Can a new material substitute for one that has been used historically? What science-inspired ideas to self-assemble, to design new structures, or to boost performance of substances derived from biological organisms can generate surges in productivity? Where can waste be eliminated […]? What would it take to increase reuse or recycling, making a process circular? What opportunities are there to optimize some inefficient process for the company, its suppliers, or its customers, when looking across the integrated supply chain?