Environmental and sustainability engineering faculty at CU Denver are at the forefront of research that advances our understanding of sustainability through systems thinking and systems analysis approaches. Research efforts are focused on the development and application of network science and industrial ecology methods to address number of important cross disciplinary issues on the theme of sustainability.
Concerns about our planet’s sustainability calls for careful consideration of environmental, ecological and health impacts of industrial systems and global supply chains in a holistic manner. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a systems approach that can help evaluate products, processes, industrial systems and the like from a “cradle-to-grave” perspective. Research in systems analysis at CU Denver focusses on the development and use of LCA methods in conjunction with other industrial ecology tools, such as carbon and water footprinting, to understand and quantify the impacts of human activities in a holistic and comprehensive manner.
Natural and human-influenced systems are complex networks in which many components and subsystems interact in space and time. In these systems, a fluctuation in a single component may propagate and cause altered variability throughout the systems. For example, in an ecohydrologic system, a persistent drought may actually lead to increased streamflow through a series of interactions and feedbacks involving vegetation thinning, decreased soil water capacity, and increased evaporation. On a systemwide basis, these jointly varying processes can lead to emergent properties or behaviors that cannot be predicted based on the knowledge of individual components. In a time of changing climate, increasing population, and altered land use, it is critical to understand how components vary independently and jointly to assess the resilience and sustainability of food, water, energy, transportation and environmental systems. Research in complex systems at CU Denver uses novel measurement, modeling and statistical techniques to understand and predict these characteristics. Applications could include ecohydrologic systems, climate change feedbacks and weather variability and influences of human decision-making and infrastructure, among others.
Green engineering is the design, development and use of processes and products that minimize pollution, promote sustainability and protect human health without sacrificing economic viability and efficiency (U.S. EPA). Ionic liquids are chemicals that exhibit “salt-like” properties in a liquid state and possess no vapor pressure, making them attractive candidates for minimizing environmental pollution. Research in Ionic Liquids at CU Denver uses first principle models, statistical models and optimization methods to reverse design and engineer novel ionic liquid candidates that are not only functionally efficient but are also eco-friendly. Applications of interest include: batteries, carbon capture, thermal energy storage, energetic materials and health diagnostics.