Editorial: Finding Optimism in Sustainable Tech | AIChE

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Editorial: Finding Optimism in Sustainable Tech


Colby Kaimanu Tinsley, Assistant Editor

As an editor at CEP, one of the most exciting parts of my job is traveling to conferences to connect and learn from industry-leading professionals and researchers. Attending these conferences is one of the ways we source new and fascinating articles.

Nearly a year ago, I got the chance to attend my first conference, “Sensors Converge 2023.” At first, this conference, which was largely concerned with electrical engineering innovations, looked to be a difficult mission. I embarrassed myself more than once straining the limits of my electrical engineering knowledge. And yet, I found the conference to be full of engineers across all generations who were excited to talk about their work, which often overlapped with chemical engineering. At this conference, I attended Tyler Boyle’s talk, the content of which became this month’s Environmental Management feature, “Measuring Regional Pollution with Low- and Mid-Cost Sensors” (pp. 51–56).

In this article, Boyle discusses his work monitoring trends in emissions over large metro areas and highlights some of his team’s innovations. The primary challenge they face is that the high cost of the sensors capable of detecting the measured CO2 fluctuations and the large number of required sensors makes measuring emissions across a large area prohibitively expensive for even the most well-funded team. To address this, they used low- and mid-cost sensors, which normally produce unusable results marred by environmental interference and sensor drift; however, by performing multiple layers of computational analysis, their team generates accurate and actionable data.

Important climate data, such as those produced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), always go on to have a second life after publication. It could inform legislation, city planning, or, more generally, our understanding of climate trends. Although this represents just a small fraction of the existing data concerning sustainability, it is exactly this granularity that makes it stand out to me.

Having had the privilege to attend some of these leading-edge conferences, I have taken away the larger realization that addressing climate change is not the responsibility of any one person, research team, or institute. It is perhaps the greatest over-arching problem facing engineers of all disciplines. The scale of climate change can be overwhelming, and yet, having been given such a broad view across the industry, I have found reason for optimism in the ubiquity of engineers addressing sustainability from all angles. Within the last three months, just at CEP, we have published feature articles discussing the impact of climate-aligned bonds, hydrogen-powered industrial fired heaters, and sustainable modular process plants, in addition to many shorter columns.

At each new conference, I see countless innovations like Boyle’s that I had previously not thought possible. So — even though it can feel as if for every climate problem you learn about, there are a hundred that you are not even aware of — I find reason for optimism in the incomprehensibly large breadth of work chemical engineers are engaged with across the industry. It is encouraging to think that for every aspect of the multi-faceted problem of climate change, there are just as many talented chemical engineers finding solutions.

Colby Kaimanu Tinsley, Assistant Editor


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