The International Congress on Sustainability Science and Engineering (ICOSSE) met for the third time in Cincinnati, OH, on August 11-15. The Congress opened with a presentation from Vice Mayor of Cincinnati, Roxanne Qualls. Her opening talk focused on how Cincinnati is an epicenter of water-centric research and history. The Vice Mayor noted that Cincinnati is embedded in the annals of municipal water treatment history by being the second metropolitan area to deploy activated carbon water treatment technology (second to Paris), by having a water quality station in operation since 1913, and as the birthplace of the Streeter-Phelps equation where studies were done on the Ohio River in 1925.
Additional sustainable highlights of the state of Ohio includes per capita lead in the nation in LEED certified buildings, although little mention was made to specific energy metrics, benchmarking of the impact that LEED buildings and associated operations have. Several of the city of Cincinnati's sustainability action plan details were discussed, in particular noting civic garden centers to alleviate food deserts and the support of car-optional lifestyles via a car-sharing service and bike-share program.
One of the dominant question of the event was water's central role in climate change. Many coastal water plants are near sea level and could be susceptible to major storm events and rising sea levels. Water use will be stressed globally due to forecasts of population increases from 1.6 billion people to approximately 2.8 by 2025. Further, approximately 40% of food is currently produced on irrigated lands (putting pressure on water supplies, which are not all managed sustainably) and it is estimated that the US will require over $600 billion for water infrastructure in the same timeframe.
Twice over the course of the 2013 summer I have had a chance to interact with David J.C. Constable, who is the Director of the American Chemistry Society's Green Chemistry Institute. For those interested in a forum for green chemistry and a multidisciplinary discussion including policy issues, check out the newsletter that ACS offers. As chemical engineers, we share a common language with chemists and often make use of chemistry skills to perform our individual ChE roles. David's speech at the Congress highlighted relevant areas for making chemical manufacture more sustainable. Here are a few of the main points:
- There are five-year to 50-year reserves of the following minerals, which the greatest emphasis on those in bold: Zn, Ga, Ge, As, Rh, Ag, In, Sn, Sb, Au, Hf.
- Critical minerals and the US economy rely heavily on South Africa and Russia.
- Reference to a treatise on a nutrient life requires but is in scare supply: phosphorus (Elser, J. Nature 2011 478 (7367): 29.)
- Inspired question: How can we re-envision common unit operations (i.e. batch reactors, distillation, and crystallization) to support process intensification?
- All science starts as science fiction. The author would like to point out Feynman's talk ("There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom."? Richard Feynman, Pasadena, 29 December 1959).
- Green Chemistry Simplified - 1) maximize resource efficiency, 2) eliminate and minimize hazards and pollution, 3) apply systems level thinking holistically (i.e. life cycle thinking).
Hopefully these bullet points illustrate some critical focus areas for chemical engineering innovation. After some of my study in the area of science technology studies, I realize that action to implement some of this change may not seem popular or welcomed; however, it was noted during Dr. Constable's talk that outcomes from such endeavors could have Nobel implications.
Making a comeback: ChE fundamentals and a new spin
There was a new spin put on poster presentations, with a rapid-fire format, which involved all poster presenters giving a 90-second (maximum) introduction to their posters to the Congress. The thought is that this would help those attending identify presenters they would like to visit during the poster session. The practice also develops presenters skills that can be likened to an elevator speech (a skill sought in AAAS fellows) or preparing the presentation of transformative-disruptive science (e.g., publication in high impact journals). Also spotted at the Congress was the well-known AIChE pocket book, but don't call it a comeback....yet. The pocket book contains some of the basic equations and relationships that chemical engineers use and fundamental mathematical relationship as part of the profession.
A presentation by Dr. Jeff Seay on the topic of sustainability credentialing being undertaken by the Institute suggests that sustainability and chemical engineering education, as a part of AIChE, will have at least 10 focus areas. The author wonders if this could be a point in time where the pocket book possibly gets an upgrade and if professional topics such as ethics will actually be incorporated. With the mind-numbing assortment of electronic mind games available for your smart phone, maybe there are some professional training tools the AIChE, NCEES, and NSPCE could develop that would actually move similar interests forward.