As part of an effort to combat climate change and conserve precious natural resources, engineering firms are beginning to explore sustainable engineering. Unlike traditional engineering efforts, sustainable engineering focuses on projects that are resource efficient, produce minimal pollution, and cause little to no damage to the natural environment. Engineering companies are also finding numerous financial benefits and higher employment rates by developing and using new forms of sustainable engineering.
Sustainable engineering also considers social and economic factors, as well. By doing this, engineers are able to create projects that not only protect the environment, but also positively impact adjacent communities financially and culturally. The future is bright for sustainable engineering—as sustainable technology improves and engineering techniques are continually refined, the need for sustainable engineers will only grow. Here are three projects that effectively highlight the promising future of sustainable engineering in the U.S.
The traditional methods used in the farming industry take up lot of room and consume vast amount of resources, and hydroponics is looking to change that. Hydroponics involves growing plants in a nutrient-rich solution—oftentimes without a medium like soil. Since hydroponic techniques allow for plants to be grown indoors and without direct sunlight—part of the reason why NASA has explored hydroponics for planet colonization—some hydroponic specialists are taking crops that are traditionally grown outside in the fields and moving them into towering skyscrapers. This method is known as “Vertical Farming.”
By growing crops inside a building with multiple floors, the farming project takes up less land and is able to grow the crops in a controlled environment, since the climate, watering routines, and other factors can be carefully planned. It is also important to note that crops grown indoors are not exposed to as many insects or other types of pests, which results in a reduced need for toxic pesticides and herbicides that can be quite damaging to the natural environment.
This vertical hydroponics system also requires less water than traditional agriculture—it uses a carefully controlled piping system for efficient watering, and the wastewater can also later be recycled. The air quality is carefully controlled, as well. By having more control over the crops and their environment, hydroponics creates a farming system that is far less taxing on the environment.
2011 Solar Decathlon
The engineering industry is always looking for innovative methods of producing new products and components while also conserving precious resources. In order to find fresh ideas for sustainable engineering, the U.S. Department of Energy hosts a biennial international collegiate competition called the Solar Decathlon. Started in 2002, teams from universities compete by designing and building the best energy-saving, solar-powered house.
One example of a winning design was created by the University of Maryland team, which was declared the winner of the Solar Decathlon 2011. Their house, named the Watershed, stood out by introducing new ways of filtering pollutants from grey water. The Watershed had the capability to capture rainwater, and it used sunlight as a power source. The house also featured interactive displays that educated visitors about green design and energy conservation.
The winning solar-powered house was selected based on the following criteria: architecture, communications, home entertainment, comfort zone, appliances, energy balance, engineering, market appeal, and affordability. The Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon serves many critical functions, as it promotes the benefits of clean energy, educates the public on how clean energy designs can provide affordability and comfort, and provides training to the participating students for working in clean energy and green design.
One of the biggest challenges facing the efforts of green design is finding an affordable and effective means of minimizing pollution emissions. While air pollution may come from many different sources, vehicles are one of the biggest contributors to poor air quality, since they emit carbon monoxide, greenhouse gas, and other harmful pollutants.
Vehicle pollution is especially bad in and around city areas featuring long-distance commuters. Urbanize Pittsburgh is working to change the need for long commutes by offering better housing in the city so that employees will live a shorter distance away from their jobs, which would eliminate the need for traveling by vehicle.
If more people lived closer to their jobs in urban zones, the use of vehicles would be greatly reduced on a daily basis. Urbanize Pittsburgh is also looking to popularize public transportation, which would help cut back on carbon emissions while saving money and resources. Many efforts are being made to make public transportation more accessible for the city population.
In order to attract new residents to the city, Urbanize Pittsburgh is targeting the types of people who would normally live in the suburbs. To achieve this challenge, Urbanize is working to revitalize urban areas by increasing public safety efforts, boosting access to cultural locations and events, and encouraging the development of new urban businesses. New housing developments are also being built with green technology so as to limit the use of crucial resources.
A More Sustainable Future
These are just a few successful examples of how sustainable engineering practices are being brought into the future here in the U.S. By investing in sustainable engineering projects, civil engineers can work together to protect the environment and our natural resources, ensuring the survival of future generations both in this country and across the world.
Civil engineers play a crucial role in engineering the structural solutions of tomorrow and plan, design, construct, and operate the infrastructure essential to our modern lives. As a student in the online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program, you can enhance your quantitative decision-making skills and learn how to justify managerial decisions with data. You will also explore the capabilities of modern management technologies and discover how to successfully leverage these tools to maximize efficiencies in your projects and on your teams.