Thomas Edison’s now The ubiquitous incandescent light bulbs will soon be a dim memory, phased out by 2014 because they use too much energy. Expecting great light to replace them is like a light emitting diode, or a bulb made of LED. More efficient than their green rival, compact fluorescent bulbs, many LEDs can last for about 20 years. But if you keep in mind how much energy is needed to make them, is LED still a sustainable option.
Ask Mary Ash, a graduate engineering student Carnegie Mellon Who is working on a research project assessing the life cycle of LEDs. Asha, 22, will earn a master’s in civil and environmental engineering with a concentration in green design in May. “I feel like I’m in the cutting edge,” she says.
In fact, that is, a sustainability sensitivity is changing through curriculum at engineering colleges in the US, as more teachers emphasize the importance of design and solutions that rely on renewable resources. A recent eighty percent of American engineering schools surveyed by the Center for Sustainable Engineering stated that they offered sustainable engineering materials into their classrooms.
Koathor David T. of Std. Alan is a chemical engineering professor University of Texas at Austin, States that sustainable engineering is “very much in the mode of development.” Its goal is to use resources in such a way that current needs can be met without robbing future generations of equal potential. Concerns over global warming and greenhouse gas emissions are a major force that drives the trend. Developing renewable energy sources that do not harm the environment is an important task, as better ways are being found to recycle and reuse the material so that the waste streams that feed the landfill become mere tricks.
The private sector can drive interest as much as public policy is demanding it. Many industries are looking to raise their green profile to meet consumer demand for sustainable products, as well as regulatory requirements. For example, almost all car parts must now be disposable. The industry needs engineers who can come up with products and parts that are designed to be easily recycled.
A major incentive for companies is the increasing pile of government funds aimed at green research. The National Science Foundation, the leading federal agency funding engineering science, has for the past several years maintained a sustainability at the heart of its Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Grant, supporting many renewable energy and clean-water projects. “Those are the areas where the NSF thinks there will be an increase. This is a clear indication,” Allen says. As resources change, academic researchers will “need more graduate students” who understand sustainability issues, says David Munson, dean in engineering University of Michigan.
Feel-good engineering. Finding them will not be a problem because the biggest driver of all is student demand, especially upon graduation. “Students have asked us to offer more courses in this area,” says industrial and manufacturing engineer Brian Thorne. Rochester institute of technology. “Students want to engage in what I call engineering, which you can feel good about,” he says. Today’s engineering students are reacting to climate change and growing up in “dangerous times” dominated by climate change and America’s addiction to non-fossil fossil fuels, Munson says. “You have to go back many generations to find a group of students interested in doing something good for society.”
Consider Ashley DeVerno, who is pursuing a master’s in permanent engineering at RIT. Her father has a marine biology degree, and grew up near the endangered Everglades Swimpland in Florida. “So, I was quickly interested in environmental issues,” says 24-year-old Davierno, whose thesis will focus on eliminating waste from small consumer-electronic products such as iPods and cellphones. On the other hand, 27-year-old Jeremy Guest, a civil and environmental engineering doctoral student in Michigan, did not get bitten by the green design bug until his third year at the Graduate School when he took a course in sustainability. “It opened my eyes,” he explains. With a fellowship from the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, Guest is researching how to recover potable water, nutrients, and energy from wastewater.
Another indicator of the growing interest in sustainability is the growing popularity of green-oriented, technology-driven competitions like solar-car challenges and solar decathlons and extracurricular groups like Engineers Without Borders and Engineers for a Sustainable World, which allows students to find solutions. Call for Endemic to problems in the developing world. Interest in ESW, Allen says, “has just exploded across the country.” Most campus chapters have a healthy mix of undergraduate and graduate students. “We encourage undergraduate students to get involved; we want their experience,” says Heather Biskell, a member of the National Board of ESW and a civil and environmental engineering PhD. Students at Stanford University, where about half of the members are graduate students. For those involved in more traditional areas of research, these additional projects can help satisfy their interest in sustainability. The current projects of the ESW chapter at Stanford include developing a solar thermal-powered refrigerator for use in rural Tanzania and designing an ecological sanitation system for rural Mexico.
All engineering disciplines, from electrical to chemical, are emphasizing on green design. “Everyone’s playing,” says Steven Skerlos, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan, who helped establish a dual master’s program in sustainability offered jointly by the College of Engineering and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment Is. Sustainability means something different in water treatment, which means in energy or manufacturing and each field requires a different set of skills. But they all also require input from natural resources and environmental experts. Hai, that’s why Michigan chose a multi-disciplinary approach. “We thought it’s best to embrace,” Skarlos says. Yale University The master’s degree in sustainability also takes a dual-college approach.
So far, schools are offering a wide variety of courses focused on sustainability rather than specific degree programs. Popular courses include sustainable design, industrial ecology and life-cycle analysis. Another way schools are dealing with green issues is to integrate them into existing curricula. For example, in Michigan, environmental engineering principles were changed to environmental and sustainable engineering principles, and new topics included pollution prevention, economic decision making, and environmental-risk assessment.
When they work as teaching assistants, graduate students can share their passion for sustainability. Guest recently helped teach a first-year civil engineering course and introduced newcomers to the basic concepts of sustainability in wastewater treatment. “They loved it,” Guest says. “It was really rewarding.” And this is another sign that the trend towards sustainable engineering is, well, sustainable.