Panel looks at alleviating effects of climate change
When students and professors combined innovative engineering with the issue of climate change, they created ecological projects that could reshape the way humans interact with the environment.
Guests at the “Engineering and Climate Change” panel, held at the Busch Campus Center last Tuesday, spoke of the efforts engineers take to mitigate the effects of the changing environment.
At the event, hosted by the Sustainability Affairs Committee of Engineering Governing Council and the Rutgers Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, professors and graduate students described their projects and research that aim to lessen harmful impacts to the ecosystem.
Dunbar Birnie, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, discussed his research in solar cell fabrication and implementation of solar energy.
He studies the energy needs for a typical commute, and ways to improve solar power for transportation, such as the use of solar power in parking lots like the solar farm on Livingston campus to charge electric vehicles.
By observing electric vehicles in the parking lots while they charge throughout the day, he learns about the battery capacity, the availability of the charger spots and energy efficiency for determining optimal energy usage.
He drove a solar vehicle for the past year as a case study to examine transportation possibilities for the future, which has made him more conscious of energy use while driving.
“I consider the good times to travel and to avoid the traffic,” he said. “I noticed that traveling in the morning is more costly than in the afternoon, which may have to do with congestion.”
Fuat Celik, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, researches a different method of power. He studies chemicals that decrease the need for energy in reactions for the conversion of renewable and alternative resources into fuel.
Celik develops these fuels through three different non-food crop biomasses: switchgrass, jatropha and duckweed, each with individual advantages.
“Switchgrass is a cellulosic energy crop grown in marginal agriculture that grows fast and has a high yield per acre,” Celik said. “And it’s a native perennial plant that also restores soil carbon and does not require tilling.”
Jatropha is a plant that produces a large yield of oil suitable for conversion into biodiesel, he said. And duckweed is a small floating plant that can be grown in wastewater treatment ponds and facilities. It produces starch for fermentation-based development of alternative fuels.
These plants seem unrelated, he said, but they are all used for the same purpose of developing renewable fuel resources.
Celik said engineering could feasibly mitigate climate control within the next 10 years, but policies that govern the research play a role in the amount of progress that can be made in the field.
Manyue Chen, a Rutgers Business School first-year student, appreciated the insight into the different projects.
“It was a great experience,” Chen said. “I want to be able to learn more about environmental science outside of the classroom. The presenters provided some professional knowledge and interesting statistics, and they were valuable to learn.”