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A Global Perspective for Sustainable Design: New Opportunities for Deep Fried Sewage and Pureed Kelp

Kenneth R. Cox, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, Houston, TX 77005-1892

We commonly think of our capstone design courses as the place where the students exercise all the skills they have learned in previous courses to optimize a complex system of practical importance. But in many cases, these courses become much more. It is here we try to assure that our students will graduate with a solid appreciation of their professional responsibilities in the areas of leadership, ethics, safety, and environment from a global perspective. As if that is not enough, we endeavor to assign projects that are relevant, engaging, and exciting.

Design projects featuring sustainability as a primary goal effectively meets many of our design course objectives. To illustrate the effectiveness of projects centered on sustainability, we will present student results from our senior design competition earlier this year. For this competition, all designs had to be based outside the United States. Students were asked to choose a biomass source and a county to site their plant that would most suitable for production of a large-scale community chemical plant. The students were given direction that sustainability was the primary objective.

The students displayed an impressive command of sustainability issues and a great deal of creativity in their solutions. The plants they designed found homes in Thailand, China, India, and Australia. Innovations included deep fried sewage sludge, seaweed farms, and membrane reactors. They demonstrated knowledge of a wide range of sustainability issues including human health, population growth, water supplies, sanitation, carbon cycles, and nitrogen fixation. These will be put into the perspective of the educational experience as part of the discussion.