Ohio State University
"Including Nature in Engineering for Sustainability and Innovation"
Sustainability of all human activities requires goods and services from nature, but engineering ignores or greatly undervalues this critical dependence. This disconnect contributes to degradation and depletion of ecosystem goods such as water and fertile soil, and services such as regulation of air and water quality, and makes many engineering activities environmentally unsustainable. For engineering to contribute to sustainable development, its paradigm needs to shift from the current one that aims to dominate nature while taking it for granted, to one that learns from nature, respects its limits, and seeks synergies with it. This talk will describe efforts toward such a paradigm shift. It will demonstrate the critical role that ecosystems play in supporting industrial activities by quantifying the role of trees in mitigating air emissions and of wetlands in removing water pollutants. Including ecosystems as unit operations can result in process designs that are less expensive than technological alternatives and have a smaller environmental impact. The framework of techno-ecological synergy provides a systematic way for developing synergies between human and natural systems and for including the role of ecosystems in life cycle assessment. Application of this framework to the design of manufacturing processes, industrial supply chains, agricultural landscapes, buildings, and urban regions demonstrates the promise of discovering innovative solutions that cannot be found by conventional methods. Developing and implementing such synergies presents many challenges due to the different dynamic behavior of technological and ecological processes, economic and policy barriers to accounting for the role of ecosystems, and the lack of ecological literacy among engineers.
Bhavik Bakshi is a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at The Ohio State University. He also holds appointments in Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering at OSU and as a Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, India. His research is motivated by the need for an engineering that enhances human well-being, is societally acceptable, and respects ecological limits. To meet this challenge, his group is working toward systematic and scientifically rigorous methods for developing products and processes that contribute to sustainable development. This requires expansion of the traditional engineering boundary to include the life cycle impact of engineering activities, synthesize synergistic and circular networks of technological and ecological systems, and account for the macro-economic effects of technologies. His awards include a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, Research Excellence in Sustainable Engineering award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and several best paper awards. He received his B. Chem. Eng. from the University of Bombay, and MSCEP and Ph.D. from MIT, with a minor in technology and environmental policy from MIT and Harvard.