Discussing current issues in civil engineering
Researchers at Washington State University have recently developed a plant-based insulation alternative to Styrofoam, according to this article on Science Daily.
Styrofoam is a popular material because it’s cheap and good for insulation—you might recognize it from takeout boxes and disposable coffee cups. However, Styrofoam is made from petroleum, it doesn’t degrade naturally (similar to plastic), and burning it is harmful to the environment.
This new plant-based alternative is created from 75% cellulose nanocrystals from wood pulp. The new material is lightweight, degrades well, and is far better for the environment even if disposed of. In fact, the new material appears to be a better insulator than Styrofoam.
Researcher Xiao Zhang, associate professor at the Gene and Linda School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering who was interviewed for the article, states that this material “has many desirable properties, and to be able to transfer these properties to a bulk sale for the first time through this engineered approach is very exciting.”
Innovations like this are very exciting because they bring us one step closer to a more environmentally sustainable future. The best way to stop manufacturing existing harmful materials is to create better alternatives, and researchers at Washington State are doing just that.
With rising global temperatures, natural disasters have become more frequent and intense in recent years—costing over $1.5 trillion and resulting in nearly 10,000 casualties since 1980.
But what’s also becoming more prevalent are “cascading natural disasters”—when one hazardous event impacts or creates another, creating a domino effect of destruction.
For example, after a wildfire or deforestation, topsoil becomes destabilized, leaving the earth incapable of absorbing rainfall. This then leads to flooding and landslides, such as the 20-foot high mudslide that hit Montecito, California homes at 20 miles per hour in January 2018.
Or consider hurricanes and their resulting storm surges. Flooding from these events typically impacts low-income households the most—as it did during Hurricane Katrina—since the most affordable homes tend to be located in the floodplains. This leads to a humanitarian disaster.
Although it’s impossible to predict the next hazardous event, civil engineers work to build solutions to reduce their impact and prevent the cascading effect. This means designing with the big picture in mind—rather than solving just the issue at hand.
To learn more about cascading natural disasters, check out this insightful article from Nature, International Journal of Science.
The April issue of the ASCE magazine features a short article on Los Angeles’s Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant (WRP). The plant is among the largest, most advanced facilities of its kind in the U.S. and presently processes over 80% of the city’s water, but the city recently revealed plans to recycle all wastewater by 2035.
In an interview with the ASCE, Paul Liu, a managing water utility engineer in the Water Resources Division of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) says, “Ultimately, however much water LADWP injects into the underground aquifer, the department can extract that same amount out of the ground to offset our imported purchased water. That’s the beauty of the system.” Recycled water requires microfiltration and reverse osmosis to prevent seawater imposition. Advanced future treatment might also include a membrane bioreactor and ultraviolet and advanced oxidation processes to make sure the water is safe to drink.
This ambitious idea would cost an estimated $8 billion but would benefit the city greatly in its attempts to be more environmentally friendly and cost-beneficial in the long term. Currently, Los Angeles imports the vast majority of its annual water supply from other parts of California, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or the Colorado River. If plans go smoothly, the city should greatly reduce its dependence on importing water from outside regions in a few years.
By recycling wastewater and cutting import costs, Los Angeles is taking steps to contribute to a better environment and waste less water. Hopefully we see more cities follow suit!
In recent news surrounding environmental sustainability, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a total of $6.2 million to nine projects that work to research the environmental impacts of wind energy.
These projects include those conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of Colorado, the American Wind Wildlife Institute of Washington D.C., and seven other project partners who are committed to researching technologies that reduce the impact to wildlife such as birds and bats, and lower overall energy costs. Peer-reviewed research includes those conducted by organizations like the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative and the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative.
By investing in these projects, the Wind Energy Technology Office along with the U.S. DOE can help to better understand the consequences for different energy sources, and the steps companies can take to assess environmental risk before making the decision that best works for the company. By collecting and disseminating rigorous research, national conservation organizations can work with energy companies to address solutions that work for both parties.
To learn more about these projects, check out https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/environmental-impacts-and-siting-wind-projects.
Interested in assessments and prevention planning for your site? We offer Environmental Site Assessments, Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans, and other services necessary for a more environmentally-conscious site plan.
Learn more on our website at http://www.colmanengineering.com/environmental.html.
With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, you might be looking forward to one of the many nationwide parades and celebrations, but did you know that St. Patrick is considered the patron saint of engineers?
While legend tells us that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, the Christian missionary and bishop is also credited with bringing Roman building technology to Ireland, teaching the Irish to build arches of lime mortar instead of dry masonry. This made him instrumental in the construction of clay churches in Ireland in the fifth century.
Due to this little-known fact, many engineering students across the United States celebrate St. Patrick’s day as a holiday set aside for engineers. The day is also one of spiritual renewal for those who celebrate its traditional meaning.
Don’t forget to wear green, and may the luck of the Irish (engineers) be with you!
Over ten years after the devastating Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has just recently finished a $731 million Permanent Canal Closures and Pumps project as of April 2018, according to an article in the February issue of ASCE. The project consists of three massive pumping stations that are designed to reduce the city’s risk of flood surges with critical draining features in the event of another major storm.
The article gives a brief history on the greater New Orleans region’s propensity for severe flooding, most famously with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which displaced 80% of its residents and caused numerous casualties.
Following Katrina, the city began to work on a Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, which includes a series of components designed to withstand a 100-year storm. The project includes an auxiliary building, a generator building, and a concrete bypass gate structure, ultimately isolating outfall canals to prevent them from running into Lake Pontchartrain.
Before this project, New Orleans relied on outdated pumping systems, which couldn’t keep up with the heavy flooding and so contributed to overflow. These updated pumping projects serve to protect residents and prevent severe damage in the case of another deadly storm, and are a critical example of the importance of smart, modern engineering technologies.
On this chocolate-filled day of the year, we show appreciation to our friends, family, and loved ones. Here are some fun facts about the holiday:
With record-breaking freezing temperatures across much of the Midwest, personal safety as well as infrastructural cracks provide concern for citizens across the northern part of the United States.
Greg DiLoreto, chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ committee on American infrastructure, was interviewed in a Chicago Tribune article where he voices concerns about the integrity of water pipes: “The more years they’ve gone through the freeze-thaw cycle, the greater the stress and strain.”
Most water mains were installed in the first half of the twentieth century, but regardless of how well they were engineered at the time, a dramatic temperature drop puts them in brittle conditions. Commuter trains in various cities have been shut down due to cracked rail systems, making any kind of transportation risky. The same freeze-thaw cycle puts asphalt roads and bridges in jeopardy for potholes, while thousands of residents across the Midwest struggle with frozen water mains, and a lack of heat and electricity after heavy winds.
For those caught in the worst of the polar vortex, the National Weather Service recommends cautious preparation: check the items in your home and car emergency kits, keep battery-powered necessities on hand, stock up on non-perishables, and avoid traveling outdoors in areas with a frostbite and hypothermia warning. Stay warm!
Following a deadly earthquake in Lombok, Indonesia, Dr. Jan Bernal-Sánchez writes on researching ways to improve building foundations in this article. Earthquakes are one of the deadliest natural disasters, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, and despite constant improvements in both civil engineering and emergency systems, deaths often adversely affect low-income people living in developing countries.
Dr. Bernal-Sánchez writes that previous attempts to alter building foundations to make them stronger have been successful, but installation is typically expensive and difficult. His solution is to introduce foundations made from local soil mixed in with scrap tire, a material that overpopulates landfills but can still be put to good use.
The proposed rubber-soil mixture helps to absorb vibrations from a potential earthquake and can even change the natural frequency of the soil foundation.
Research is still ongoing to perfect the soil-to-rubber ratio, but with the right amount of reliable simulation tests and funding, this study shows promising results to help avoid high death tolls from earthquakes in the future.
As the year comes to a close, we’re thankful for the opportunity to spend time with friends and family and all the wonderful connections we’ve made with our community. In the spirit of the season, here are some fun facts about the numerous December holidays:
Hoping that you and yours have a happy holiday and a joyous new year!
Colman Engineering, PLC
A civil engineering firm located in Harrisonburg, VA