RESEARCH

“A system is never the sum of its parts, it’s the product of their interactions” – Russell Ackoff

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Environmentally Benign Manufacturing as defined by the National Science Foundation in 2001 is “a system of goals, metrics, technologies, and business practices that address the long-term dilemma for product realization: how to achieve economic growth while protecting the environment.” There is no evidence that the environmental problems from our production systems are solvable by a “silver bullet” technology [1]. Rather, the need for systems-based solutions was noted, requiring a comprehensive systems approach e.g. the product’s design is formed in conjunction with its logistical and recycling systems. Clearly, this raises the level of design complexity. A framework for such a systems-based approach to Environmentally Benign Design and Manufacturing (EBDM) that is both efficient and effective in reducing environmental impact while maintaining or increasing a product’s or system’s technical and financial performance.

Bio-inspired product design is becoming commonplace, however using this same solution source for network design has not yet become popular. The methods by which biotic systems reach their environmentally sustainable state are hypothesized to support the engineering of sustainable products, processes and systems. My work, building upon e.g. [2,3,4], has demonstrated that the use of biological methods and principles can lead to environmental improvements at multiple scales. The goal of my research is to move ideas from biology to human systems design in such a way that they become implementable tools.

The problems of industrial networks need to be addressed, as shown by both the environmental concerns of consumers and citizens as well as the desire of industries to cut costs through improvements in physical efficiency rather than a reduction in resource quality. This all results in an increase in companies and governments seeking to close primary and ancillary material loops associated with product life cycles. Efficiency, costs and life cycles are strongly affected by byproduct take backs and ancillary flows of materials and energy. Increasing these will lead to the creation of more and more nonlinear networks for distributing and processing resources at multiple scales. The structure of ecosystems gives insight into solutions to network problems regarding robustness, sustainability, and efficiency, and incorporates the conclusions into the design of industrial networks.

History has shown that nature has already evolved to include solutions to many of the problems that currently exist, and which may arise in the future. The specific aim of the research done in BiSSL seeks to provide solutions to engineering problems that result in industry-wide cost savings, increased efficiency and resilience, and reductions of environmental burdens. The results of this work support the view that financial competitiveness and sustainability need not be mutually exclusive.

  1. Allen, D. T., D. J. Bauer, B. Bras, T. G. Gutowski, C. F. Murphy, T. S. Piwonka, P. S. Sheng, J. W. Sutherland, D. L. Thurston and E. E. Wolff (2002). “Environmentally Benign Manufacturing: Trends in Europe, Japan and the USA.” ASME Journal of Manufacturing Science 124(4): 908-920.
  2. Chertow, M. R. and R. D. Lombardi (2005). “Quantifying Economic and Environmental Benefits of Co-Located Firms.” Environmental Science & Technology 39(17).
  3. Graedel, T. E. (1996). “On the concept of industrial ecology.” Annual Review of Energy and Environment 21: 69-98.
  4. Hardy, C. and T. E. Graedel (2002). “Industrial Ecosystems as Food Webs.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 6(1): 29-38.

Collaborators:

Dr. Rich Malak, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University

Dr. Ahmed Ali, Department of Architecture, Texas A&M University

Dr. Kate Davis, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Texas A&M University

Dr. Kirk Winemiller, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Texas A&M University

Dr. Stewart Borrett, Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Dr. John Reap, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Quinnipiac University

Dr. Julie Linsey, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Cynthia Hipwell, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University