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Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Engineering (IL923)

Introductory description

Contemporary global economic challenges, which are exacerbated by intensive competition through international trade and the rapid growth in population has led to negative impact on environmental systems (such as the diminishing finite natural resources and environmental impacts) as well as on socioeconomic systems. Addressing these challenges, without destabilising industrial and business processes whilst operating within the safe operating zone of the planetary boundaries has, therefore, become a matter of global concern and urgency. The associated complexities of these challenges including technology development, economic growth, environmental management, and social change have led to a surge in demand for the requisite knowledge and skills in the area of Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Engineering.

Industrial Ecology is an emergent interdisciplinary scientific discipline of developing nearly closed-loop industrial ecosystems of material exchange and efficient energy cascading by mimicking natural systems. Sustainable Engineering, on the other hand, supports the development of products and processes through the lens of the triple bottom line (TBL) framework, based on a balanced view of economic, environmental and social aspects. As such, sustainable engineering could be considered the operational aspects of industrial ecology in that it adopts industrial ecology tools such as lifecycle, input-output, techno-economic and material flow analyses across a range of environmental, economic, and social sustainability indices. It then adopts sustainable engineering methods to integrate that knowledge into products, processes, and services design and management. These analyses form the basis of industrial ecology and sustainable engineering that seeks to develop and manage products, processes and services that satisfies human needs in a sustainable manner.

This module is designed for students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and aims to provide them with critical knowledge and skills to analyse and contribute to sustainable technical solutions in industry, consultancy, governmental agencies, and research. The module covers aspects including but not limited to key concepts of industrial ecology (industrial ecosystems, industrial symbiosis, and industrial metabolism), industrial ecology tools (lifecycle, input-output, techno-economic, and material flow analyses), sustainable engineering and design for environment, environmental impact assessment, sustainable production and consumption, resource/material efficiency and circular economy strategies (e.g. reuse, repair, remanufacturing and recycling), pairing disruptive digital technologies with the circular economy, sustainability in the supply chain, multi-criteria decision analysis, energy and transportation (e.g. battery systems and electric vehicles) amongst others.

Principal module aims

The module aims to provide students with a rich understanding of how industrial ecology and sustainable engineering serve as a framework for the consideration of environmental and sustainability-related aspects of products and processes. Drawing from multiple disciplines, including engineering, management and sustainability sciences, students will garner knowledge on underlying principles and visions as well as theory and tools that support the establishment and assessment of resource-efficient and circular measures. By exploring real-world examples, students will be able to synthesize and apply the knowledge acquired. In doing so, students would have gained broad awareness and profound understanding of the environmental, economic, social and ethical challenges as well as opportunities facing humankind.

A further module aim is that students will gain knowledge and skills about some of the analytical tools and methods applied in industrial ecology and sustainable engineering to support them to assess critical aspects of sustainability, focus on environmental impacts and resource constraints, and to suggest measures towards sustainable development.