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Incorporating Energy Issues Into Environmental Engineering

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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

Innovations to Curriculum and Program

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.729.1 - 13.729.12



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Paper Authors

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Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado at Boulder

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

Incorporating Energy Issues into Environmental Engineering


No single engineering discipline has integrated renewable and sustainable energy topics into their core curriculum. Environmental engineering programs may benefit from including sustainable energy in their curriculum. Many students in a freshman-level introductory Environmental Engineering (EVEN) course viewed EVEN as a potential major to study renewable energy, but many have since indicated that they plan to switch into other majors. Twelve of the 46 students in the class indicated that “energy” was their primary specialty choice (second only to 14 students stating an interest in water). Student interest in energy related topics was also strongly apparent among the applicants to a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in EVEN, with 42 of 84 applicants stating an interest in working on research related to energy topics. These energy projects were the most popular among all of the 15 different research topics advertised. This paper describes the existing energy-related courses at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It also describes ways to incorporate sustainable energy into existing courses. Environmental engineering needs to determine what its niche will be in relation to sustainable energy topics, and train students in this important area.


Energy-related issues are important to the sustainability of the planet, due to links with global climate change which has been associated with the combustion of fossil fuels. Energy issues are currently receiving a lot of news coverage. This is exciting many students about the possibilities of working in a career that would develop sustainable energy sources with fewer pollution effects. Meeting this challenge will require the efforts of scientists, engineers, and policy makers. Students with an interest in this field are currently struggling to determine the best major to pursue in college to enable them to pursue a career in this area.

Catherine Peters proposed that civil/environmental engineering curricula should “teach students the fundamentals of sustainable energy, in addition to incorporating sustainable engineering and global warming issues14. To effectively engineer sustainable systems, energy flow must be understood. For example, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has estimated that about 4% of all electricity consumption in the U.S. is consumed by water and wastewater treatment and transmission, and that electricity accounts for 80% of municipal water treatment and distribution costs2. Environmental engineers have the potential to lead systematic analysis of products and processes from a life-cycle perspective. Environmental engineers may be the best suited of all the engineering disciplines to conduct these life-cycle analyses due to broad training in fundamentals that span almost the broadest range fundamental science and engineering disciplines. These topics include physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and economics. Life cycle analyses (LCA) are also an important tool in traditional environmental engineering disciplines. Various water and wastewater treatment processes have undergone LCA by including energy, raw materials, pollution, and toxicity factors, with results published in peer reviewed literature6. This paper describes energy related curriculum and courses, and with how they relate to environmental engineering.

Bielefeldt, A. (2008, June), Incorporating Energy Issues Into Environmental Engineering Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4263

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