Matching Items (9)

Toward Adaptive Infrastructure: Flexibility and Agility in a Non-Stationarity Age

Description

As technologies rapidly progress, there is growing evidence that our civil infrastructure do not have the capacity to adaptively and reliably deliver services in the face of rapid changes in

As technologies rapidly progress, there is growing evidence that our civil infrastructure do not have the capacity to adaptively and reliably deliver services in the face of rapid changes in demand, conditions of service, and environmental conditions. Infrastructure are facing multiple challenges including inflexible physical assets, unstable and insufficient funding, maturation, utilization, increasing interdependencies, climate change, social and environmental awareness, changes in coupled technology systems, lack of transdisciplinary expertise, geopolitical security, and wicked complexity. These challenges are interrelated and several produce non-stationary effects. Successful infrastructure in the twenty-first century will need to be flexible and agile. Drawing from other industries, we provide recommendations for competencies to realize flexibility and agility: roadmapping, focus on software over hardware, resilience-based thinking, compatibility, connectivity, and modularity of components, organic and change-oriented management, and transdisciplinary education. First, we will need to understand how non-technical and technical forces interact to lock in infrastructure, and create path dependencies.

This report has been advanced to a peer-reviewed journal publication:
Mikhail Chester and Braden Allenby, 2008, Toward adaptive infrastructure: flexibility and agility in a non-stationarity age, Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure, pp. 1-19, DOI: 10.1080/23789689.2017.1416846.

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Embedded resource accounting with applications to water embedded in energy trade in the western U.S

Description

Water resource management is becoming increasingly burdened by uncertain and fluctuating conditions resulting from climate change and population growth which place increased demands on already strained resources. Innovative water management

Water resource management is becoming increasingly burdened by uncertain and fluctuating conditions resulting from climate change and population growth which place increased demands on already strained resources. Innovative water management schemes are necessary to address the reality of available water supplies. One such approach is the substitution of trade in virtual water for the use of local water supplies. This study provides a review of existing work in the use of virtual water and water footprint methods. Virtual water trade has been shown to be a successful method for addressing water scarcity and decreasing overall water consumption by shifting high water consumptive processes to wetter regions. These results however assume that all water resource supplies are equivalent regardless of physical location and they do not tie directly to economic markets. In this study we introduce a new mathematical framework, Embedded Resource Accounting (ERA), which is a synthesis of several different analytical methods presently used to quantify and describe human interactions with the economy and the natural environment. We define the specifics of the ERA framework in a generic context for the analysis of embedded resource trade in a way that links directly with the economics of that trade. Acknowledging the cyclical nature of water and the abundance of actual water resources on Earth, this study addresses fresh water availability within a given region. That is to say, the quantities of fresh water supplies annually available at acceptable quality for anthropogenic uses. The results of this research provide useful tools for water resource managers and policy makers to inform decision making on, (1) reallocation of local available fresh water resources, and (2) strategic supplementation of those resources with outside fresh water resources via the import of virtual water.

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Date Created
  • 2013

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Assessment and solutions for waste handling of compostable biopolymers

Description

Fossil resources have enabled the development of the plastic industry in the last century. More recently biopolymers have been making gains in the global plastics market. Biopolymers are plastics derived

Fossil resources have enabled the development of the plastic industry in the last century. More recently biopolymers have been making gains in the global plastics market. Biopolymers are plastics derived from plants, primarily corn, which can function very similarly to fossil based plastics. One difference between some of the dominant biopolymers, namely polylactic acid and thermoplastic starch, and the most common fossil-based plastics is the feature of compostability. This means that biopolymers represent not only a shift from petroleum and natural gas to agricultural resources but also that these plastics have potentially different impacts resulting from alternative disposal routes. The current end of life material flows are not well understood since waste streams vary widely based on regional availability of end of life treatments and the role that decision making has on waste identification and disposal.

This dissertation is focused on highlighting the importance of end of life on the life-cycle of biopolymers, identifying how compostable biopolymer products are entering waste streams, improving collection and waste processing, and quantifying the impacts that result from the disposal of biopolymers. Biopolymers, while somewhat available to residential consumers, are primarily being used by various food service organizations trying to achieve a variety of goals such as zero waste, green advertising, and providing more consumer options. While compostable biopolymers may be able to help reduce wastes to landfill they do result in environmental tradeoffs associated with agriculture during the production phase. Biopolymers may improve the management for compostable waste streams by enabling streamlined services and reducing non-compostable fossil-based plastic contamination. The concerns about incomplete degradation of biopolymers in composting facilities may be ameliorated using alkaline amendments sourced from waste streams of other industries. While recycling still yields major benefits for traditional resins, bio-based equivalents may provide addition benefits and compostable biopolymers offer benefits with regards to global warming and fossil fuel depletion. The research presented here represents two published studies, two studies which have been accepted for publication, and a life-cycle assessment that will be submitted for publication.

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Date Created
  • 2015

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Addressment of uncertainty and variability in attributional environmental life cycle assessment

Description

'Attributional' Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) quantitatively tracks the potential environmental impacts of international value chains, in retrospective, while ensuring that burden shifting is avoided. Despite the growing popularity of LCA

'Attributional' Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) quantitatively tracks the potential environmental impacts of international value chains, in retrospective, while ensuring that burden shifting is avoided. Despite the growing popularity of LCA as a decision-support tool, there are numerous concerns relating to uncertainty and variability in LCA that affects its reliability and credibility. It is pertinent that some part of future research in LCA be guided towards increasing reliability and credibility for decision-making, while utilizing the LCA framework established by ISO 14040.

In this dissertation, I have synthesized the present state of knowledge and application of uncertainty and variability in ‘attributional’ LCA, and contribute to its quantitative assessment.

Firstly, the present state of addressment of uncertainty and variability in LCA is consolidated and reviewed. It is evident that sources of uncertainty and variability exist in the following areas: ISO standards, supplementary guides, software tools, life cycle inventory (LCI) databases, all four methodological phases of LCA, and use of LCA information. One source of uncertainty and variability, each, is identified, selected, quantified, and its implications discussed.

The use of surrogate LCI data in lieu of missing dataset(s) or data-gaps is a source of uncertainty. Despite the widespread use of surrogate data, there has been no effort to (1) establish any form of guidance for the appropriate selection of surrogate data and, (2) estimate the uncertainty associated with the choice and use of surrogate data. A formal expert elicitation-based methodology to select the most appropriate surrogates and to quantify the associated uncertainty was proposed and implemented.

Product-evolution in a non-uniform manner is a source of temporal variability that is presently not considered in LCA modeling. The resulting use of outdated LCA information will lead to misguided decisions affecting the issue at concern and eventually the environment. In order to demonstrate product-evolution within the scope of ISO 14044, and given that variability cannot be reduced, the sources of product-evolution were identified, generalized, analyzed and their implications (individual and coupled) on LCA results are quantified.

Finally, recommendations were provided for the advancement of robustness of 'attributional' LCA, with respect to uncertainty and variability.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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Reframing the Climate Change Problem: Evaluating the Political, Technological, and Ethical Management of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the United States

Description

Research confirms that climate change is primarily due to the influx of greenhouse gases from the anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels for energy. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the dominant greenhouse

Research confirms that climate change is primarily due to the influx of greenhouse gases from the anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels for energy. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the dominant greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Although research also confirms that negative emission technologies (NETs) are necessary to stay within 1.5-2°C of global warming, this dissertation proposes that the climate change problem has been ineffectively communicated to suggest that CO2 emissions reduction is the only solution to climate change. Chapter 1 explains that current United States (US) policies focus heavily on reducing CO2 emissions, but ignore the concentrations of previous CO2 emissions accumulating in the atmosphere. Through political, technological, and ethical lenses, this dissertation evaluates whether the management process of CO2 emissions and concentrations in the US today can effectively combat climate change.

Chapter 2 discusses the historical management of US air pollution, why CO2 is regulated as an air pollutant, and how the current political framing of climate change as an air pollution problem promotes the use of market-based solutions to reduce emissions but ignores CO2 concentrations. Chapter 3 argues for the need to reframe climate change solutions to include reducing CO2 concentrations along with emissions. It presents the scientific reasoning and technological needs for reducing CO2 concentrations, why direct air capture (DAC) is the most effective NET to do so, and existing regulatory systems that can inform future CO2 removal policy. Chapter 4 explores whether Responsible Innovation (RI), a framework that includes society in the innovation process of emerging technologies, is effective for the ethical research and deployment of DAC; reveals the need for increased DAC governance strategies, and suggests how RI can be expanded to allow continued research of controversial emerging technologies in case of a climate change emergency. Overall, this dissertation argues that climate change must be reframed as a two-part problem: preventing new CO2 emissions and reducing concentrations, which demands increased investment in DAC research, development, and deployment. However, without a national or global governance strategy for DAC, it will remain difficult to include CO2 concentration reduction as an essential piece to the climate change solution.

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Date Created
  • 2020

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Techno-Economic Analysis of Capturing Carbon Dioxide from the Air: Positioning the Technology in the Energy Infrastructure of the Future

Description

As the global community raises concerns regarding the ever-increasing urgency of climate change, efforts to explore innovative strategies in the fight against this anthropogenic threat is growing. Along with other

As the global community raises concerns regarding the ever-increasing urgency of climate change, efforts to explore innovative strategies in the fight against this anthropogenic threat is growing. Along with other greenhouse gas mitigation technologies, Direct Air Capture (DAC) or the technology of removing carbon dioxide directly from the air has received considerable attention. As an emerging technology, the cost of DAC has been the prime focus not only in scientific society but also between entrepreneurs and policymakers. While skeptics are concerned about the high cost and impact of DAC implementation at scales comparable to the magnitude of climate change, industrial practitioners have demonstrated a pragmatic path to cost reduction. Based on the latest advancements in the field, this dissertation investigates the economic feasibility of DAC and its role in future energy systems. With a focus on the economics of carbon capture, this work compares DAC with other carbon capture technologies from a systemic perspective. Moreover, DAC’s major expenses are investigated to highlight critical improvements necessary for commercialization. In this dissertation, DAC is treated as a backstop mitigation technology that can address carbon dioxide emissions regardless of the source of emission. DAC determines the price of carbon dioxide removal when other mitigation technologies fall short in meeting their goals. The results indicate that DAC, even at its current price, is a reliable backup and is competitive with more mature technologies such as post-combustion capture. To reduce the cost, the most crucial component of a DAC design, i.e., the sorbent material, must be the centerpiece of innovation. In conclusion, DAC demonstrates the potential for not only negative emissions (carbon dioxide removal with the purpose of addressing past emissions), but also for addressing today’s emissions. The results emphasize that by choosing an effective scale-up strategy, DAC can become sufficiently cheap to play a crucial role in decarbonizing the energy system in the near future. Compared to other large-scale decarbonization strategies, DAC can achieve this goal with the least impact on our existing energy infrastructure.

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Date Created
  • 2020

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Integrating sustainability grand challenges and active, experiential learning into undergraduate engineering education

Description

Engineering education can provide students with the tools to address complex, multidisciplinary grand challenge problems in sustainable and global contexts. However, engineering education faces several challenges, including low diversity percentages,

Engineering education can provide students with the tools to address complex, multidisciplinary grand challenge problems in sustainable and global contexts. However, engineering education faces several challenges, including low diversity percentages, high attrition rates, and the need to better engage and prepare students for the role of a modern engineer. These challenges can be addressed by integrating sustainability grand challenges into engineering curriculum.

Two main strategies have emerged for integrating sustainability grand challenges. In the stand-alone course method, engineering programs establish one or two distinct courses that address sustainability grand challenges in depth. In the module method, engineering programs integrate sustainability grand challenges throughout existing courses. Neither method has been assessed in the literature.

This thesis aimed to develop sustainability modules, to create methods for evaluating the modules’ effectiveness on student cognitive and affective outcomes, to create methods for evaluating students’ cumulative sustainability knowledge, and to evaluate the stand-alone course method to integrate sustainability grand challenges into engineering curricula via active and experiential learning.

The Sustainable Metrics Module for teaching sustainability concepts and engaging and motivating diverse sets of students revealed that the activity portion of the module had the greatest impact on learning outcome retention.

The Game Design Module addressed methods for assessing student mastery of course content with student-developed games indicated that using board game design improved student performance and increased student satisfaction.

Evaluation of senior design capstone projects via novel comprehensive rubric to assess sustainability learned over students’ curriculum revealed that students’ performance is primarily driven by their instructor’s expectations. The rubric provided a universal tool for assessing students’ sustainability knowledge and could also be applied to sustainability-focused projects.

With this in mind, engineering educators should pursue modules that connect sustainability grand challenges to engineering concepts, because student performance improves and students report higher satisfaction. Instructors should utilize pedagogies that engage diverse students and impact concept retention, such as active and experiential learning. When evaluating the impact of sustainability in the curriculum, innovative assessment methods should be employed to understand student mastery and application of course concepts and the impacts that topics and experiences have on student satisfaction.

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Date Created
  • 2015

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An emerging technology assessment of factory-grown food

Description

In vitro, or cultured, meat refers to edible skeletal muscle and fat tissue grown from animal stem cells in a laboratory or factory. It is essentially meat that does not

In vitro, or cultured, meat refers to edible skeletal muscle and fat tissue grown from animal stem cells in a laboratory or factory. It is essentially meat that does not require an animal to be killed. Although it is still in the research phase of development, claims of its potential benefits range from reducing the environmental impacts of food production to improving human health. However, technologies powerful enough to address such significant challenges often come with unintended consequences and a host of costs and benefits that seldom accrue to the same actors. In extreme cases, they can even be destabilizing to social, institutional, economic, and cultural systems. This investigation explores the sustainability implications of cultured meat before commercial facilities are established, unintended consequences are realized, and undesirable effects become reified and locked in. The study utilizes expert focus groups to explore the social implications, life cycle analysis to project the environmental implications, and economic input-output assessment to explore tradeoffs between conventionally-produced meat and factory-grown food products. The results suggest that, should cultured meat be widely adopted by consumers, food is likely to be increasingly a product of human design, perhaps becoming integrated into existing human institutions such as health care delivery and education. Environmentally, cultured meat could require smaller quantities of agricultural inputs and land than livestock. However, those avoided costs could come at the expense of more intensive energy use as biological processes are replaced with industrial systems. Finally, the research found that, since livestock production is a driver of significant economic activity, shifting away from traditional meat production in favor of cultured meat production could result in a net economic contraction.

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Date Created
  • 2014

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Decision factors for E-waste in northen Mexico: to waste or trade

Description

Electronic waste (E-waste) is a concern, because of the increasing volume of materials being disposed of. There are economical, social and environmental implications derived from these materials. For example, the

Electronic waste (E-waste) is a concern, because of the increasing volume of materials being disposed of. There are economical, social and environmental implications derived from these materials. For example, the international trade of used computers creates jobs, but the recovery from valuable materials is technically challenging and currently there are environmental and health problems derived from inappropriate recycling practices. Forecasting the flows of used computers and e-waste materials supports the prevention of environmental impacts. However, the nature of these material flows is complex. There are technological geographical and cultural factors that affect how users purchase, store or dispose of their equipment. The result of these dynamics is a change in the composition and volume of these flows. Collectors are affected by these factors and the presence of markets, labor and transportation costs. In northern Mexico, there is an international flow of new and used computers between Mexico and the United States and an internal flow of materials and products among Mexican cities. In order to understand the behavior of these flows a field study was carried out in 8 different Mexican cities. Stake holders were interviewed and through a structured analysis the system and the relevant stakeholders were expressed as Data Flow Diagrams in order; to understand the critical parts from the system. The results show that Mexican cities have important qualitative differences. For example, location and size define the availability of resources to manage e-waste. Decisions to dispose a computer depend on international factors such as the price of new computers, but also on regional factors such as the cost to repair them. Decisions to store a computer depend on external factors such as markets, but also internal factors such as how users perceive the value of old equipment. E-waste collection depends on the value of e-waste, but also on costs to collect and extract value from them. The main implication is that a general policy base on how E-waste is managed at a big city might not be the most efficient for a small one. More over combining strengths from different cities might overcome respective weaknesses and create new opportunities; this integration can be stimulated by designing policies that consider diversity

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Date Created
  • 2012