(150a) Sustainability Concepts in the Food-Energy-Water Nexus: Chemical Engineering Perspective

Authors: 
Das, T. K., University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Cabezas, H., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Mededovic Thagard, S., Clarkson University
The idea of sustainability and/or sustainable development emerged from the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), generally known as the Brundtland Commission. It defined sustainable development in â??Our Common Futureâ? as that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Environmental sustainability and/or sustainable development â??occurs when we maintain or improve the material and social conditions for human health and the environment over time without exceeding the ecological capabilities that support themâ?. As such, sustainability has three underlying bases: (1) economic viability - the cost and business aspects of a project; (2) social concern - human health and social welfare; and (3) natural or ecological issues - depletion of natural capital and environment. Sustainable development has become a major driving initiative in engineering businesses throughout the world today. Our focus is on all aspects of sustainable development including environmental, industrial, business, economical, ethical, and social sustainability as they impact the availability of food, energy, and water. This is important because it has been generally acknowledged that the increasing use of non-renewable resources to support an increasing population has created an unsustainable or nearly unsustainable situation where the ability to provide adequate food, energy, and water is in question. Should this rate of use be maintained, two dire consequences will follow: first, the future generations will be unable to maintain a good standard of living, and second, developing countries will have less of an opportunity to bring their living standards to a level comparable to that of the affluent countries. This is important because the availability of food, energy, and water is an indispensable necessity for maintaining a good standard of living. The practice of chemical engineering, perhaps more than any other technical discipline, involves the use of both non-renewable and renewable materials, and energy and exergy (available energy) resources for the production of chemicals, value-added goods, services of commerce, and waste as pollution. This paper primarily deals with the ideas of environmental sustainability and/or sustainable development, methodologies to redesign sustainable chemical and allied processes and products development using the LCA approach. These principles are illustrated with a case study for the production of ethanol, an energy source, from molasses, a human food, in a combined agricultural and chemical process that requires substantial amounts of water.