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Sustainability Engineering

The term “Sustainable Development” has become very popular in the last decades; it is defined in the Brundtlandt Report (UN, 1987) as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development is a very broad one and is associated with many issues. One of these is the natural capital, which is natural assets that humans can modify but not create, and is normally divided into three categories: non-renewable resources, the capacity of nature to produce renewable resources, and the capacity of nature to assimilate pollutants. There is a need for tools that allow comprehensive assessment of the links between the natural capital and society.

Technological development is perceived as a key factor to increase the welfare of population, however most of current environmental challenges such as Climate Change can be associated with global application of non-sustainable technologies such as fossil fuel based energy systems. As any other developing country, Ecuador faces a double challenge, which is reducing poverty while keeping the natural capital constant. As of today, environmental aspects in Ecuador have been addressed with pollution control and remediation approaches (end-of-pipe approaches), which are useful but do not necessarily reach sustainable solutions. A sustainable engineering approach is required for the development of sustainable technologies.

The Sustainability Engineering Research Group, at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Production Sciences at ESPOL, is dedicated to the research, development and application of industrial ecology and sustainability assessment tools. Central areas of research interest of the group include:

  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is a tool to evaluate the environmental performance of products and services with a life cycle perspective. This means including all the life cycle stages such as raw material extraction, materials processing, manufacture, use or consumption, and final disposal. Current focus of the Group is the study of energy and food systems. Derived tools such as carbon and water footprint are also a focus of the group. Design for environment is related to incorporating environment concerns in the design and development of products and services, LCA can be used successfully as part of the set of tools for Engineering Design.
  • Industrial Metabolism. Industrial metabolism is the total amount of physical and chemical processes that transform raw material and energy into products and wastes. The study of industrial metabolism allows finding opportunities for the development of industrial ecosystems, in which the wastes of one plant or sector can be used as raw materials for other plants or sectors. The concept of industry here is used in a broad context and can include any manmade activity.
  • Sustainability Assessment. The use of tools such as sustainability indicators and indexes, systems modeling, scenario analysis, multi-criteria analysis, among others. This type of tools can be used to determine the status of environmental, social and economic development of a technology, sector or region.

The mentioned methods and concepts can be a applied to different products, technologies and sectors and therefore the Group has a multidisciplinary approach and works with experts in the fields of energy, engineering design, production, transport, materials, food processing, agriculture, aquaculture, mining, infrastructure, pollution control among others. The Group is also involved in curriculum development at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Current projects

Life cycle assessment of electricity production in Ecuador As of today, there is no LCA study on electricity production in Ecuador. At ESPOL and in collaboration with the National Institute of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (INER) of Ecuador, a LCA of electricity production in Ecuador is being developed. The project involves the compilation of a life cycle inventory for the different electricity production systems used in Ecuador such as thermal power plants and hydropower. The compilation of the life cycle inventory will include reviewing power plant environmental monitoring reports, literature review, and the use of emissions and resources use models. The system will be modeled in a specialized software tool for support in calculating the product and natural flows and calculation of impact assessment results. A second stage of the project will include the consequential assessment to consider the effects of the major electricity production matrix change planned for the next years. The principal investigator of the project is Dr. Angel Ramirez. The project involves Prof. Jorge Duque, Mrs. Andrea Boero and Mrs. Ana Maria Melendres at ESPOL, and Mr. Francisco Izurieta and Mr Sebastian Espinoza at INER.

Greenhouse gas life cycle assessment of bamboo as a building material Currently, a carbon footprint study as specified by BSI PAS 2050 is being carried on Guadua Agustifolia Kunth, a giant grass that belongs to the large family of Bamboo, which is used as a building material for houses in countries like Ecuador and Colombia. The project involves the collection of data for the stages of forestry, transportation, preservation and storage to construct the life cycle inventory and quantifying the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project. The project is being carried on by Mr. Dionicio Torres under the supervision of Dr. Paulo Pena at INER and Dr. Angel Ramirez  at ESPOL.

Future plans

Applying life cycle assessment to support sustainability of energy systems, mariculture products, biofuels, bioproducts, food systems, and new materials.
Modeling material, product and waste flows in urban, industrial and agri-food systems to identify opportunities for the development of eco-industrial parks.
Supporting the incorporation of environmental and social considerations in the design of engineering solutions.
 

Keywords

Sustainability, life cycle assessment, LCA, design for environment, industrial ecology, carbon footprint, water footprint, technical change

People

Angel D. Ramirez M, Ph.D.  aramire@espol.edu.ec

Andrea J. Boero V., M.Sc. aboero@espol.edu.ec

Jorge W. Duque R., M.Sc. jduque@espol.edu.ec

Rodolfo E. Paz M., M.Sc. rpaz@espol.edu.ec

Jorge W. Duque R., M.Sc. jduque@espol.edu.ec

Rodolfo E. Paz M., M.Sc. rpaz@espol.edu.ec