on January 11th, 2022

Through the development, application, promotion and communication of environmentally sustainable engineering practices and technologies, there is cause to mitigate engineering practices to always fall in line with practices for the improvement of climate change.

November 2021 marked the COP26 summit where world leaders scratched heads to find effective solutions to climate change and sustainability.

Within the engineering sphere, there’s already action to change the way sustainability is approached from the perspective of engineers – and education is also changing to create sustainability savvy engineers.

Source: YouTube UN Climate Change

Why Does Engineering Need to Change to Accommodate Sustainability Goals?

Engineers Australia offers a good guideline for engineers to figure out their role in reaching sustainability goals.

Picture: Unsplash

Engineers Australia believes that engineers play a fundamental role in maintaining and improving life by providing infrastructure and systems that meet the needs of humanity.

In fact, sustainability is entrenched in EA in that the EA Code of Ethics requires members to use their knowledge, skills and expertise to benefit their community by creating engineering solutions for a sustainable future.

EA points out many aspects of the engineering process that can assist engineers in reaching global sustainability goals – one solution is employing a sustainable procurement process.

These kinds of procurements would aim to reduce the adverse effects on the environment and positively influence social and economic chain values. Procurement can include sourcing of materials, effective waste disposal and the use of renewables.

According to the EA guide, sustainable procurement will involve working with a supply chain that is slanted toward environmental benefit. To do this, engineers need to:

  • Ensure equipment and material is from sustainable sources and if possible local
  • Make sure no part of equipment and material is from exploitive practices that strengthen social disadvantage free from participation in slave labor or human rights abuses
  • That equipment and material has a low eco-footprint and didn't have to travel far to reach the site
  • That equipment and material is made from recycled items or goods or can be recycled in the future
  • That engineering materials is toxin-free
  • That it is locally sourced to lessen the carbon footprint
Photo by Alexander Abero on Unsplash

Education Is Key

The expansion of pollution prevention skills relies on engineering students. From the outset, students will be able to enhance the transfer of technology from inside and outside of companies because they enter with a skill set that allows them to think about sustainability.

This is according to Challenges for Design Engineers in Sustainable Engineering.

The paper explains that improving organization structures, training and participation of employees when it comes to sustainability there is a culture created that looks at pollution prevention techniques.

Picture: Unsplash

The benefits of this will be:

  • Economy: When waste is reduced or eliminated there’s direct cost-saving because of pollution control and lower disposal costs. These can also include reduced energy and water costs or select conservation efforts.
  • Liability: There’s simply less waste that can lead to tricky situations, legal fees or even fines. Using the best available practices not only standardizes efficient and modern takes on sustainability but reduces future risks like workplace safety.
  • Improving effectiveness: Pollution prevention reduces waste management. Any problems associated with the risks of waste is almost completely eradicated.

A new paper COP26 Agenda on Education also places emphasis that quality education for all people coupled with the crucial role teachers play in education is one of the only ways to motivate and change the outcomes of instilling the values of sustainability.

The paper specifically says that curricular reform, as well as training on teaching climate change, will create needed autonomy that sustainability is no longer so divided when it comes to reaching outcomes.

What are the challenges and some of the solutions?

Photo by Hafidh Satyanto on Unsplash

1) Waste

The EA also subscribes to a waste hierarchy that engineers should proactively use. The waste hierarchy is put in place to reduce waste for the next generation. Here is the hierarchy:

  • Avoid: Any design processes that generate waste
  • Reduce: Minimize hazardous materials produced.
  • Reuse: Materials should be reused on-site or materials should have extended life due to reutilization and alternative uses.
  • Recycle: This creates new products or allows separate materials to be used again.
  • Recovery of energy: Using alternative energy like water or wind.
  • Treatment: Waste should be treated to be stable and not expel hazardous toxins. It should also have no environmental risk.

One way forward to reduce waste is Lean Construction, where construction is optimized to address each aspect of the hierarchy.

The paper Design Engineering Waste Minimization and Lean Awareness in the Egyptian's Construction Industry looked at instances where waste is generated within the construction industry. It is estimated that in some countries up to 30 per cent of resources purchased end up as waste.

The paper places the onus on engineers and designers to consider the following when it comes to construction projects.

Another paper Sustainable Construction: Improving Productivity through Lean Construction found that reducing the cost of construction important economically and socially.

Each element of the construction process when using Lean Construction methodologies will ensure a complete and coherent project that achieves sustainable architecture, reduces waste, uses local workers and uses sustainable best practices.

Wind turbine station
Picture: Unsplash

2) Energy from different sources

Green energy comes with pitfalls, but one of the latest solutions is floating wind farms.

MunmuBaram, a joint venture between Shell and CoensHexicon is developing and operating, a 1.3 GW floating offshore wind project in South-East Korea near the city of Ulsan.

In late 2021 MunmuBaram secured its first electricity business license which is a step closer to delivering a commercial-scale floating offshore wind farm.

The MunmuBaram project will be developed in phases and is expected to generate up to 4.2 terawatt-hours (TWh) of clean electricity every year once it’s completed.

A new paper Green Energy Technology states that building energy consumption has risen, and only continue to do so as populations increase. One-way engineers are saving energy is the utilization of natural light which can reduce thermal accumulation in buildings.

Using glass effectively provide enough and efficient daylight illuminance into the interior of buildings and decrease heat transmission through building frames. The conservation of

energy consumptions with just thorough design is massive. Add to that solar power and off-grid technologies and entire buildings will remain sustainable ecosystems for years.

Waste can also be turned into electricity. One new example from 2021 is a paper titled Energy from Discarded Wool and Fish Scales. These raw materials are readily available and usually disposed of as waste. Both these waste stocks are made up of proteins that show ionic and electrochemical potential according to the paper.

The researchers built an electrochemical cell and powered it with scales and wool. The research showed the voltage generated from a single cell could be multiplied. The electrolytes from the waste also showed an increase in voltage and high energy retention of up to 120 minutes. This kind of waste management can see self-sufficient electricity in small buildings or farms and fisheries where the waste will be bountiful.

Similar projects like using human waste to generate energy in developing nations have proven successful.

Seen as a targeted principle, in the construction field the application of energy-saving technology to reduce energy consumption and cost

According to Application of New Green Energy-Saving Technology in Construction Engineering new technologies that are already proving effective are:

  • Technicians and engineers should make full use of solar energy technology to replace the combustion of natural gas or coal. The sun has a lifespan of around 5 billion years and it is an unlimited and renewable source of energy. The strength of solar power is the fact that it can directly turn heat into energy and also it produces no greenhouse gasses. It has also become affordable enough to be used in massive projects.
  • Wall thermal insulation technology will see construction add a wall insulation system by adding a layer of protective film on the inside or outside of the wall, to increase the insulation effect in buildings.
A hydrogen filling station in Hamburg, Germany.

3) Incorporating Hydrogen

Fuel cell technologies and hydrogen energy are being increasingly viewed as essential decarbonization options across the United States and around the world for a wide range of sectors, including transportation, goods and people movement, power generation, energy storage, natural gas blending, marine propulsion, aviation, heating, steelmaking, and other industrial applications.

From trucks to forklifts to be used on-site, hydrogen technologies are already experiencing a rollout.

The 2021 paper Analysis of hydrogen use as an energy carrier in transport shows that in Europe 32% of emissions of CO₂ is due to vehicles.

The transition from hydrocarbon fuel to renewable energy requires the introduction of new energy units in vehicles. The deployment of fuel-cell vehicles soon for the commercial taxi- and truck fleets used within government by EU nations and the commercialization of forklifts already underway in many first-world nations show how viable hydrogen vehicles will be in a fleet or used as company vehicles.

Sectors like mining are already fitting heavy use vehicles with hydrogen according to Fuel Cell and Hydro Energy Association (FCHEA). In Africa, a mining truck with 800 kilowatts (kW) worth of fuel cell stacks is already used to create a zero-emissions mine by Anglo Americans in South Africa.

At the end of last year, FCHEA said in America a new 1.2 trillion American Dollar bipartisan Infrastructure bill was signed in the jobs act to assist in introducing hydrogen-specific provisions and large-scale deployment.

References:

Deng, Yimin & Baeyens, J & Zhang, Huili & Li, S. (2020). Challenges for Design Engineers in Sustainable Engineering. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science. 544. 012010. 10.1088/1755-1315/544/1/012010.

Nuttall, Douglas. (2014). Towards Engineering for Sustainability. 10.1061/9780784478745.076.

Olatunde-Aiyedun, T.. (2022). COP26 Agenda on Education.

Eldash, Karim & Mahdi, Ibrahim & Dokhan, Shady & Zaied, Elsayed. (2021). Design Engineering Waste Minimization and Lean Awareness in the Egyptian's Construction Industry.

Awad, Tamar & Guardiola, Jesús & Fraíz, David. (2021). Sustainable Construction: Improving Productivity through Lean Construction. Sustainability. 13. 13877. 10.3390/su132413877.

Battampara, Prajwal & Ingale, Deepak & Guna, Vijay kumar & Pradhan, Uma & Reddy, Narendra. (2021). Green Energy from Discarded Wool and Fish Scales. Waste and Biomass Valorization. 12. 10.1007/s12649-021-01475-1.

Na, Wang & Chonghua, Xu. (2020). Application of New Green Energy-Saving Technology in Construction Engineering. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science. 565. 012004. 10.1088/1755-1315/565/1/012004.

Keller, A & Karpukhin, K & Kolbasov, A & Vladimir, Kozlov. (2021). Analysis of hydrogen use as an energy carrier in transport. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering. 1159. 012087. 10.1088/1757-899X/1159/1/012087.

Muntohar, Agus. (2021). Civil Engineering and Sustainable Development. Bulletin of Civil Engineering. 1. iii-iV. 10.18196/bce.v1i1.11150.

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