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Technologies for Sustainable Development: How Can Engineering Deliver?
29th April @ 2:30 pm - 4:10 pm
Addressing environmental challenges such as climate change, fresh water scarcity, and sustainable food production is essential for the well-being of current and future generations. This is motivating a lot of engineering research and development, but history indicates that there is no guarantee that the resulting technologies will truly address these challenges. While technologies greatly enhance human well-being, they also contribute to the degradation of ecosystems: the very systems that sustain our well-being. This talk will argue that engineering will not be able to deliver technologies for sustainable development without a paradigm shift toward respecting nature. This is because the underlying reason for environmental side-effects of technological advances and their large-scale adoption is that engineering takes nature for granted by considering it to be an infinite source and sink. Furthermore, environmental problems tend to shift across time, space, disciplines and types of flows into domains that are outside conventional engineering. We will describe on-going research to overcome these shortcomings, and show how learning from nature and seeking synergies between technological and ecological systems can result in innovative process and supply chain designs that are economically and environmentally superior to conventional designs. We will describe a multiscale modeling framework to ensure that technologies do not just shift problems outside the system boundary. This framework connects models from molecules to processes to the economy and is useful for advancing life cycle assessment and progress toward a sustainable circular economy. These efforts are steps toward the eventual convergence of engineering with ecology and economics.