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A First Year Engineering Experience In Sustainable Design

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

FPD7 - Global Warming & Sustainability for First-Year Students

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.36.1 - 13.36.9



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Paper Authors

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Amber Kemppainen Michigan Technological University

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Gretchen Hein Michigan Technological University

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David Shonnard Michigan Technological University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A First-Year Engineering Experience in Sustainable Design


For the past fifteen years, Brazil has been producing fuel ethanol from sugarcane, thereby decreasing their overall gasoline consumption by 50%. With decreasing oil supplies and increasing fuel costs, many countries hope to duplicate Brazil’s success. However, sugarcane, the ethanol staple crop in Brazil, does not cultivate well in other climates. Therefore, an effort must be made to determine the process feedstocks for different regions of the world. In the Spring of 2008, first-year engineering students at Michigan Technological University will investigate the potential of fuel ethanol produced from lignocellulosic (woody) biomass.

During the course of this project, students will utilize the “waste equals food” principles of sustainable design outlined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Using these guidelines, students will learn to incorporate the principles of sustainable development in the design and simulation of an ethanol production facility. They will investigate the sustainability of the production of the ethanol product from a regional feedstock and the sustainability of the ethanol process by developing a facility to eliminate waste from the production process.

This paper will describe the incorporation of the biomass-to-ethanol design project into our first year engineering program, the assessment methodology used and the expected educational outcomes of the project.


All first year engineering students who enter our program Calculus-ready take a two semester course sequence: ENG1101 (Engineering Problem Solving and Analysis) and ENG1102 (Engineering Modeling and Design). These courses are designed to introduce first year engineering students to basic engineering topics: 3D visualization and modeling, ethics, engineering design and problem solving, software proficiency, and technical communications. In the second semester course, ENG1102, students complete a semester-long design project within an engineering team of 3-5 people. In the past, these design projects have included: an autonomous robot, a human-hybrid vehicle, a New Orleans flood management plan, a microbrewery and a super mileage concept vehicle.

Beginning in the spring semester of 2008 is the alternative fuels design project where students will examine the viability of a biomass-to-ethanol process using regional timber resources (logging residues or energy crops such as hybrid poplar). With increasing pressure to reduce foreign oil consumption and the U.S. Department of Energy looking to increase the biofuels usage from 3% to 30% by 2025, this is a current problem graduating engineers may be called to investigate.1 The goals of this new design project are to: a) encourage the development of engineering skills (graphical and technical communication, and computer proficiency) b) introduce students to a “real-world” engineering problem and c) apply the concepts of sustainability toward an engineering solution. Upon completion of the project, students will have:

Kemppainen, A., & Hein, G., & Shonnard, D. (2008, June), A First Year Engineering Experience In Sustainable Design Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3284

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