Chemical and biomolecular engineers are frequently involved in work that has major impacts on both human communities and the natural environment. As such, the GT School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) partners with GT’s Serve-Learn-Sustain program (SLS) to help its majors prepare to use their skills to create positive impacts and mitigate negative impacts, as in the case of chemical disasters. SLS’ mission is to train students to contribute to the task of “creating sustainable communities.”
Majors who are interested in being better prepared to apply their chemical and biomolecular engineering knowledge and skills to sustainable communities work are encouraged to seek out SLS-affiliated courses and faculty within ChBE. The purpose of this document is to provide students with information on these opportunities.
ChBE majors who enroll in ChBE SLS-affiliated courses will learn to think in depth about the following important sustainable communities-related concepts and how to engage them as chemical and biomolecular engineers, especially by working in partnership with communities where chemical plants are sited:
Lifecycle Analysis (LCA): Chemical and biomolecular processes are part of larger systems that impact human communities and the natural environment from start to end – from supply chain (input), to production, to use (output), to disposal. Impacts that are most typically considered are physical, such as soil contamination, atmospheric pollution or water quality. More recently, though, social impacts are also considered, through “Social LCA,” most notably to health, but also to other areas, such as “workers’ rights and safety, community building, living conditions, fair competition.” Since all chemical processes produce and consume energy there is a natural link to concepts such as the social cost of carbon which can be used to condense climate impacts into an economic impact. There are also quality of life indicators that can be used to translate particulate emissions into DALY’s and then into economic measures.
Health and Safety: Chemical and biomolecular processes can have serious impact on worker health and safety; the health and safety of the communities surrounding chemical plants; and communities and the natural environment far beyond plant boundaries (e.g., through pipeline and tank accidents), if safety measures are not appropriately designed and implemented. The emphasis of chemical engineering design and operation is to avoid creating hazardous situations whenever possible and then designing safety systems to avoid uncontrolled releases when hazards are an inevitable part of the process design. Chemical engineers must also pay close attention to lab safety both in their undergraduate but also graduate labs and in their professional work environment where their own and their colleagues safety can be at risk due to failure to understand the safety issues of those environments.
Environmental Justice: Historically, chemical plants are located, and often clustered, in low income communities and communities of color, both within and outside the U.S. This makes Environmental Justice – or EJ – an important concept and movement for chemical and biomolecular engineers to understand and engage in. EJ is concerned with making sure that (a) no community takes on an unfair share of environmental burdens and (b) environmental benefits are shared in an equitable way regardless of race, class, gender, or orientation.
Green Chemistry & Engineering: Chemical products provide significant benefits to society but there has been an increasing recognition of the negative impact of chemical production and use. This has lead to a strong growth in using “principles of green chemistry and engineering” to try to reimagine chemical products to reduce toxicity and manufacturing risks associated with solvents and reaction chemistries of the traditional industrial routes from petrochemical feedstocks and substitution with renewable feedstocks.
Modular Manufacturing and Decentralized Processing: The development of modular low-capital chemical processes through process intensification and photo/electrochemical technology can enable decentralized production of chemical products. The direct use of electrons and photons for chemical production challenges the traditional paradigm of thermally driven processing and may lead to fundamentally different ways of configuring the chemical production enterprise. These emerging technologies may lead to more sustainable chemical production by utilizing renewable electrical energy and/or reducing costs and emissions associated with transportation. Decentralized manufacturing and chemical processing may also have social impact by empowering communities to control their own production of chemical products.
ChBE offers SLS-affiliated courses every semester. Affiliated courses include the following. Note that if there is an instructor’s name in parentheses, the course is only SLS-affiliated when taught by that instructor:
|COURSE||TYPE||WHEN IT'S OFFERED|
|CHBE 2120 Numerical Methods in Chemical Engineering (Medford)||Required||Fall, Spring, Summer Semesters|
|CHBE 4535 Chemical Product Design (Reichmanis)||Can be used to fulfill ChBE Electives||Fall Semester|
|CHBE 4720 Foundational Technologies in the Manufacture of Forest Bioproducts (Luettgen)||Can be used to fulfill ChBE Electives||Fall Semester|
|CHBE 4759 Electrochemical Energy Storage and Conversion (Hailong Chen, Marta Hatzell)||Can be used to fulfill ChBE Electives||Every two years (semester varies)|
|CHBE 4803/8803 Chemical Engineering of Energy Systems (Realff)||Can be used to fulfill ChBE Electives||Fall Semester (every two years)|
|CHBE 4803/8803 Fundamentals and Challenges for a Sustainable Chemical Enterprise (Reichmanis)||Can be used to fulfill ChBE Electives||Spring Semester (every 1 to 2 years)|
ChBE majors are also encouraged to enroll in required courses in Chemistry that are SLS affiliated:
|COURSE||WHEN IT'S OFFERED|
|CHEM 1211K Chemical Principles I||Fall, Spring|
|CHEM 1212K Chemical Principles II||Fall, Spring, Summer|
|CHEM 2380 Synthesis Lab I (Evans, Zhu)||Fall, Spring, Summer|
ChBE majors can also register for SLS-affiliated courses that meet the following General Education requirements:
Wellness Elective: APPH1040
To find SLS-affiliated courses that meet these requirements, visit the courses section of the SLS website and search for courses using the “GenEd Requirement” search option – and make sure to choose the semester you’re interested in, as well.
ChBE also encourages its majors to participate in SLS’ Signature Programs, which include curricular and co-curricular options, as well as single- and multi-semester programs. These programs include a Sustainable Cities Minor and a program on Innovating for Social Impact, which results in a Certificate of Completion issued by SLS.
ChBE and SLS encourage students to reach out to faculty and advisers to discuss their SLS interests and learn more about available opportunities.
To learn more about courses and opportunities within ChBE, contact Matthew Realff, ChBE Professor and Faculty Liaison to SLS.
ChBE majors are also encouraged to reach out to ChBE faculty who work closely with SLS and whose courses and research relate to sustainable communities. The faculty listed here are eager to advise ChBE majors interested in this topic: