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(405a) Incorporating the Design of Sustainable Systems Into Engineering Curricula

Authors: 
Allen, D., The University of Texas at Austin
Murphy, C. F., University of Texas at Austin
Shonnard, D. R., Michigan Technological University
Austin, S., Chemical Engineering Branch, US EPA
Nguyen, N. T., US EPA


What does it mean for an engineering design to be sustainable? Design tools that allow engineers to choose inherently safer chemicals, improve energy efficiency, improve mass efficiency, and reduce emissions and exposures are certainly part of an emerging tool set engineers will need for sustainable designs. But, sustainability remains a subjective concept. Given that the concept of sustainability has not been defined in the type of quantitative framework used in engineering design, it is useful to take a pragmatic approach to defining the tools of sustainable engineering. Many engineering educators are incorporating sustainability concepts into the courses that they teach and an inventory of what is covered in those courses represents a first step in defining the tools of sustainable engineering. An inventory of these tools has recently been completed as part of a benchmarking of the incorporation of sustainability concepts into engineering education in the United States.

The results of this inventory will be presented in two parts. First, the types of courses in which sustainability concepts are being addressed will be described, along with the diverse subject areas covered in these courses. Then, common elements in the courses will be identified. Based on these common elements, some model frameworks for incorporating sustainability into chemical engineering education will be presented.

Specifically, this presentation will describe approaches to incorporating sustainability concepts into freshman engineering courses and into required or elective courses for advanced undergraduates. At the freshman level, sustainability concepts are incorporated through analyses such as determining the embodied energy and greenhouse gas footprints of materials selected for engineering designs. Other concepts covered at the freshman level include design for disassembly, design for low embodied energy, and design for extended life. Required or elective courses for advanced chemical engineering undergraduates include concepts such as design of inherently safer molecular structures, emission and exposure estimation, flowsheet evaluation and intensification, environmental cost accounting, and life cycle assessment.

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