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Engineering for the environment

Wind turbinesWant to use your engineering skills to save the planet? Find out what engineers can do for the environment.

Renewable energy

There's loads of energy in the world around us, whether it's the wind, the sunshine or the heat of the Earth's core. The problem is working out how to harness it.

This is mainly a mechanical engineering problem, but there are openings for other areas of engineering as well. For example, electronic engineers might be able to help improve the efficiency of solar panels, so that they can get more power from a smaller area. Chemical engineers might also have a role to play, as renewable energy often gives a less steady supply, making battery technology more important.

Alternative transport

Getting around is a classic engineering problem, and modern engineers have an extra concern to think about: doing it cleanly. That doesn't just mean designing more efficient engines. It could also be inventing charging systems that make electric cars more practical, for example.

Water and waste management

Engineers are vital to day-to-day environmental problems like dealing with waste and making sure the water supply is clean and reliable. They design water systems and waste treatment plants, as well as the necessary technology to monitor water quality.

Geoengineering

Not all environmental engineering is focused on preventing pollution. Geoengineering tries to reverse pollution that has already happened, or at least to prevent some of its bad effects. For example, various ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have been devised, while other engineers have looked at ways to make the Earth reflect more sunlight to slow down global warming.

Geoengineering is a very broad area, and requires work between different branches of engineering. For example, cleaning air or water is a chemical process, but mechanical and civil engineering is also required to do it on a large scale. Engineers also need to work with other scientists to ensure that the side-effects of geoengineering projects do not outweigh the benefits.

Other options

These are just a few of the ways that engineering can help the environment. There are lots of other possibilities, including many that are less direct. For example, technology like smart meters can help the environment by making it easier for people to reduce their own energy use, while things like better video-calling systems can reduce the need for travel. As with any area of engineering, environmental engineering requires creativity and insight as well as technical skill.

Studying environmental engineering

Although all engineers can work to help the environment, there are specific environmental engineering courses available at many universities. These are often focused on civil engineering, but some may be broader or look at more high-tech areas like clean technology. It may also be possible to focus on environmental projects as part of a standard engineering degree, depending on the structure of your course.

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