US manufacturing has become more fuel-efficient and less labor-intensive since 1998: manufacturing gross output grew by 12% through 2018, while fuel consumption decreased by 16%, according to a new report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Labor productivity, measured as gross output divided by the number of employees, also improved by 62% in the same period. Meanwhile, fuel intensity, measured as fuel consumption divided by gross output, decreased by 25%.
Four industries — chemical, petroleum and coal products, paper, and primary metals — account for most of manufacturing energy consumption, at 77%.
—Natural gas and hydrocarbon gas liquids continue to increase their shares of total consumption, rising from 43% of consumption in 2002 to 53% in 2018.
—Natural gas use for indirect uses (boiler and combined heat and power) compared with other fossil fuels increased as a percentage over 20 years from 70% to 92%.
—The use of coal, coal coke and breeze as well as naphtha and fuel oils has declined each survey cycle since 2002.
—Nonfuel consumption (or the use of energy as a feedstock or raw input rather than for fuel) is dominant in the chemicals industry.
Most subsectors cannot easily switch from natural gas to alternative fuels like coal, electricity, and renewables, according to the report. The most common reason manufacturers could not switch from natural gas was that their equipment was not capable of using another fuel. Unavailable alternative fuel supply was also cited as a reason.