By: Sarah Widder
Can technology achieve sustainability?
This was the premise of Robert Urban and Bhavik Bakshi's of The Ohio State University's presentation in Sustainable Building Design I Monday morning. Their answer was not completely. Dr. Bakshi, who presented the work, discussed how the second law of thermodynamics limits the extent to which technology can "save us." This is because technology inherently adds order to a system, which by the second law will add disorder to the surroundings. He gave examples of how we have seen this phenomenon with CFCs, GMOs, or CFLs.
Dr. Bakshi, discussed how nature is also subject to the second law, but manages to create more elegant systems without such unintended consequences by creating interdependent, coordinated networks. Urban and Bakshi's research in "techno-economic analysis" looks at how those coordinated systems might be modeled to take advantage of geographical opportunities for symbiosis. Using the example of a residential home, as shown in the picture below, the most discussed opportunity was the opportunity to have some water reclamation and irrigation. The multi-dimensional problem is optimized using metrics of water, revenue, and carbon emissions on a Paredo plot.
From this research, they have found that behavioral changes, such as setting back the thermostat are the most beneficial in terms of all metrics. Interesting discussion followed the talk about the benefit of adding a "comfort" metric that would give weight to a persons personal choices. One surprising conclusions was the growing in a garden in your backyard was worse for your carbon footprint than grass. However, Dr. Bakshi shared that this conclusion will probably change with future work that will account for the life-cycle of systems. Future work also hopes to expand this model to communities and larger commercial environments.