Spring 2019: Sustainability in Civil Engineering (CE G9800) / Sustainable Infrastructure (SUS 7800B)

Class syllabus


Readings for Session 4

Susan Svoboda, "Note on Life Cycle Analysis" (1995)

Geoffrey P. Hammond and Craig I. Jones, "Embodied Carbon: The Concealed Impact of Residential Construction", in Global Warming: Engineering Solutions, pp. 367-384, Springer (2010)

Mathis Wackernagel et al., "Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99:9266-9271 (2002)

John Ehrenfeld and Nicholas Gertler, "Industrial ecology in practice: The evolution of interdependence at Kalundborg", Journal of Industrial Ecology 1(1):67-79 (1997)

K.-H. Robèrt et al., "Strategic sustainable development — selection, design and synergies of applied tools", Journal of Cleaner Production 10(3):197-214 (2002)

Readings for Session 3

George W. Kling, "The Flow of Energy: Primary Production to Higher Trophic Levels" (2008)

A D Barnosky et al. "Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere", Nature 486: 52-58 (2012)

Johan Rockström et al., "A safe operating space for humanity", Nature, 461:472-475 (2009)

Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala, "A plan to keep carbon in check", Scientific American (2006)

Jim Hansen, "Solutions to climate catastrophe" (2011)

Readings for Session 2

Gus Speth, "Towards a new economy and a new politics" (2010)

Penn State University Center for Medieval Studies, "Colonial America's pre-industrial age of wood and water"
or Sashi Sivramkrishna, "Production Cycles and Decline in Traditional Iron Smelting in the Maidan, Southern India, c. 1750-1950: An Environmental History Perspective" (2009) Environment and History 15(2): 163-197

David JC MacKay, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air (2008), Chapters 1-4 (Pages 1-34)

Göran Wall, Exergetics (2009), Pages 1-50

Julian M Allwood and Jonathan M Cullen, Sustainable Materials with Both Eyes Open (2012), Chapters 1-3 (Pages 1-50) [The whole book is freely available and worth reading, especially if you are interested in buildings.]


Short essay to submit before Session 4

(1) Use tools such as the Inventory of Carbon & Energy from the University of Bath here or the NIST BEES software, which have estimates of the energy requirements and CO2 emissions associated with using different materials, to roughly assess the greenhouse gas emissions associated with constructing a building or piece of infrastructure of your choice. What are some ways for the environmental impacts associated with this construction to be reduced?

(2) What makes industrial ecology "ecological"? Describe or analyze examples for how your field or area of interest can adopt industrial ecology principles. If possible, give some quantitative estimates of the potential reduction in resource extraction or pollution.

Short essay to submit before Session 3

(answer any one of the following, referring to the readings)

(1) List five steps that, in your view, have the potential to significantly help in mitigating and/or adapting to global warming (and/or other major disruptions to Earth's climate and biosphere), and briefly explain why each is a good idea. Also, discuss one or more ideas that have been proposed as solutions that, in your view, are ineffective or harmful.

(2) Pose and solve one or more numerical thermodynamics/exergy problems of interest to you, based on (some of) the following sources. Summarize in words what you learned from working through the problem(s).

Short essay to submit before Session 2

(answer any one of the following)

(1) Referring to the Penn State or Sivramkrishna articles, why didn't societies without fossil fuels, such as 18th-Century Pennsylvania or India, build steel-framed structures? What resource utilization practices were facilitated by low population density (e.g. ~4 people per km2 in 18th-Century Pennsylvania)? If the population density were comparable to today's (e.g. 100 people per km2 in Pennsylvania), what would have been the alternatives?

(2) The Speth article questions the value of economic growth. What are the arguments that economic growth can be destructive? How would you expect engineering practice to be different in a world that did not see economic growth as the main goal of society? See also Chapter 17 of Allwood and Cullen.

(3) Summarize the concept of energy quality and how it relates to building and infrastructure design. Use as sources relevant sections of Wall's book, as well as the Annex 49 project website on "Low Exergy Systems for High-Performance Buildings and Communities" – this document (esp. the case studies in pages 49-68) might be particularly helpful.

(4) New York City's utility worries about being able to meet peak electricity demand, which is on hot summer afternoons. Suppose that you're doing a feasibility study of several different methods of reducing peak demand. For each method, estimate the order of magnitude of the (a) cost and (b) space required for this method to be able to reduce city peak demand by 10%. The methods are: (i) battery storage (see here and here); (ii) Rooftop solar photovoltaic generation (reference, another); (iii) Demand reduction enabled by smart meters (reference; another). See also the study summarized here and Con Ed's plan. What do you see as the biggest uncertainties in your rough calculations?


Class 1: Introduction
Class 2: Thermodynamics
Class 3: Ecology and Climate