Fall 2015: Sustainability in Civil Engineering (CE G9800) / Sustainable Infrastructure (SUS 7800B)

Class syllabus

Readings, classwork, and homework

For Session 12

Choose a recent personal or professional project, news story, or journal article related to sustainability of infrastructure. Write and upload a 1-2 page short essay explaining the topic of the project or article and how it exemplifies one or more of the concepts presented in this class. If you've not yet presented 3 times this semester, also prepare a 5-10 minute presentation (slides optional) to give in class.

Readings for Session 11

Edmond Byrne, "Teaching engineering ethics with sustainability as context", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 13(3):232-248 (2012)

Jaco Quist, Crelis Rammelt, Mariette Overschie, and Gertjan de Werk, "Backcasting for sustainability in engineering education: the case of Delft University of Technology", Journal of Cleaner Production 14(9:11):868-876 (2006)

The Transition Network, "Transition Primer: A guide to Becoming a Transition Town" (2011)

Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, "Tunneling Through the Cost Barrier", in Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (1999)

Toby Hemenway, "Finding a Sense of Surplus" (2005)

Short essay to submit before Session 11

(1) Choose an engineering project that you believe would further a sustainable society. About how much funding will it need, and how would you propose financing it? You may consider both traditional and alternative/new infrastructure funding approaches. You can look here on government cost-sharing and here on the MTA's fiscal planning, as well as the ideas in Natural Capitalism.

(2) Choose a current or hypothetical infrastructure problem or design. How could the engineers involved best promote sustainability? You can consider the possible roles of conceptual tools such as backcasting (Quist and the Transition Handbook) and of engineers' ethical stance and obligations (Byrne and Hemenway).

Readings for Session 10

Paul and Percival Goodman, "Banning Cars from Manhattan", Dissent (1961)

Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, "Making public transport financially sustainable", Transport Policy 18:126-138(2011)

Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, "Transportation in the Post-Carbon World", in The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises (2010)

Short essay to submit before Session 10

(1) What are some advantages and challenges of car-free cities? You can look here for inspiration.

(2) What are some transportation needs of this region, and possible sustainability-mindful solutions? See here and here about our region. Cf. also relevant sections of MacKay's book.

Readings for Session 9

John H. Scofield, "Do LEED-certified buildings save energy? Not really...", Energy and Buildings, 41:1386-1390 (2009) (See also Scofield's testimony to Congress)

Colin MacDougall, "Natural building materials in mainstream construction: Lessons from the U. K.", Journal of Green Building, 3(3), 3-14 (2008)

P Raman, Sanjay Mande, and V.V.N. Kishore, "A passive solar system for thermal comfort conditioning of buildings in composite climates", Solar Energy, 70(4):319-329 (2001)

Amory Lovins, "The super-efficient passive building frontier", ASHRAE Journal, 37(6):79-81 (1995)

Martin Holladay, "Passivhaus for beginners: The history of a superinsulation standard" (2010)

Short essay to submit before Session 9

(1) You are sustainability consultant for the mixed-use renovation of a block of townhouses. Prepare a list of six options for reducing the HVAC loads in the development that deserve to be studied in detail, explaining the physical mechanism for how each option would work. See here for some inspiration from local projects.

(2) Summarize how one existing rating system or code, such as Passive House, Living Building Challenge,LEED, CalGreen, or Victoria's 5 Star standard, evaluates whether a building is 'green'. From a sustainability standpoint, what do you see as the most important modifications that should be made to this system or code?

Readings for Session 8

J. D. Hanson, John Hendrickson, and Dave Archer, Challenges for maintaining sustainable agricultural systems in the United States, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 23:325-334 (2008)

David Pimentel, Paul Hepperly, James Hanson, David Douds and Rita Seidel, Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems, BioScience, 55:573-582 (2005)

David R. Montgomery, Soil erosion and agricultural sustainability, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104:13268-13272 (2007)

Dana Cordell, Jan-Olof Drangert, and Stuart White, The story of phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought, Global Environmental Change, 19:292-305 (2009)

Scott Stringer, Putting Food Policy On The City's Front Burner (2009)

Short essay to submit before Session 8

(1) Consider a building or infrastructure project of your choice. What are its impacts on the production and distribution of food in its foodshed? You can consider impact categories such as loss of agricultural land, soil erosion and water supply, access to affordable food, and climate change. Can you think of a feasible way to make these impacts more positive?

(2) Is organic agriculture, as currently defined and practiced, sustainable? Why or why not?

(3) Answer the post-Hurricane Sandy assignment questions to get a sense of the space requirements for sustainably growing food, getting energy, and related needs.

Readings for Session 7

Kris De Decker, "Recycling animal and human dung is the key to sustainable farming", Low-Tech Magazine (2010)

Lauren Valle, "Ecological design", Vermont Journal of Environmental Law 16(4):575-585 (2015)

Richard Conlin, "Waste not: Seattle's road to zero trash", YES! Magazine (2010)

Lisa Ianucci, "Don't trash this: recycling and garbage rules", The Cooperator (2015)

Short essay to submit before Session 7

(1) What were some of the health considerations that led to current urban waste disposal methods (sewers, garbage collection, landfills, etc.)? Suggest one modification that would be preferable from the point of view of sustainability while continuing to protect public health. Cf. especially the De Decker and Valle articles.

(2) What are three steps that NYC could take to emulate the waste reduction and redirection initiatives of cities like Seattle and San Francisco? (Cf. the Conlin and Ianucci articles and here.) What are economic incentives for, and obstacles to, taking these steps?

Readings for Session 6

Lester R. Brown, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (2009), Chapter 2, "Population Pressure: Land and Water"

Molden, David, Charlotte De Fraiture, and Frank Rijsberman, "Water Scarcity: The Food Factor", Issues in Science and Technology (2007)

Mark Pires, "Watershed protection for a world city: the case of New York", Land Use Policy, 21:161-175 (2004)

Terry Thomas, "Domestic water supply using rainwater harvesting", Building Research & Information, 26:94-101 (1998)

Central City Concern, Achieving Water Independence in Buildings (2009)

Short essay to submit before Session 6

(1) How much water is used to produce the food you eat? You can base your estimate on the Water Footprint Network's calculator. Comment on the sustainability of this level of water use.

(2) Estimate the magnitude of water uses in a building of your choice. (Check utility bills, if possible.) How does it compare with the rainfall rate on the building? List any obvious design improvements related to the water flow in and through the building.

Readings for Session 5

David JC MacKay, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air (2008)

Short essay to submit before Session 5

(1) New York City currently uses 6.1 GW electricity (sources: 50% natural gas, 30% nuclear, 10% hydroelectric, 10% coal); 5.1 GW gasoline and diesel fuel for cars, trucks, and buses; and 13 GW natural gas and fuel oil for heat and hot water (adapted from here). How would you propose NYC obtain energy without using fossil fuels? What are approximate requirements in area and investment capital if your proposal is followed? (You might want to include a small spreadsheet for keeping track of the numbers.)

(2) Choose a building or other piece of infrastructure of interest to you. What are its power requirements (quantity and type of energy) for operation and maintenance? Suggest ways in which it could be retrofitted for these energy requirements to be reduced or made more flexible.

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)

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 CO2 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.

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)

Short essay to submit before Session 3

Write on one of the following topics, 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:

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"

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 2

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

(1) Why didn't societies without fossil fuels, such as 18th-Century Pennsylvania, build steel-framed structures? What resource utilization practices were facilitated by low population density (~4 people per km2) in 18th-Century Pennsylvania? If the population density were comparable to today's Pennsylvania (100 people per km2), 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: Life and Climate
Class 4: Assessment and Practice
Class 5: Energy
Class 6: Water
Class 7: Waste
Class 8: Food
Class 9: Building
Class 10: Transport
Class 11: Integration