A to Z of Engineering

Engineering is all around us! We’re exploring an A to Z of everything engineering from acoustics to zoos.

More From A to Z of Engineering

A to Z of Engineering: E is for Environmental Engineering

From the air we breathe to the ground under our feet...the world of environmental engineering is fascinating!

Welcome to Engineer Academy where we’re exploring an A to Z of Engineering – everything from acoustics to zoos.

In each episode, we spin the wheel to find out what type of engineering we’ll be exploring with the help of Engers, our engineering expert.  

You can listen to the full series of the A to Z of Engineering here.

Let’s take a look at E for ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING!

What is Environmental Engineering?

white electic windmill

Now we all know that the environment is important – but what do we mean when we talk about environmental engineering? From the air we breathe to the ground under our feet, we need a safe and clean environment to live and to stay healthy.

It’s important to protect nature – not just to ensure that the food we eat and the water we drink is not contaminated, but also protect habitats and clean up any contamination – whether to our oceans, towns or farmland.  And that’s where environmental engineering comes in.  Let’s dig into the detail – over to you Engers!

In a nutshell, environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They work to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control. They also address global issues, such as unsafe drinking water and environmental sustainability.  As you can imagine, they’re pretty busy!

green plant sprouting at daytime

One of the most interesting things about environmental engineering is the sky is literally the limit!  There’s a tremendous variety of different projects – from ones on a global scale, like coming up with ways to create clean water supplies for an entire country… to much smaller ones, like reducing polluting emissions from a single factory. 

Part of environmental engineering is making checks on what already exists.  Pretty much everywhere in the world there are rules and laws about the level of pollution and emissions that can be generated, and targets to reduce these.  Environmental engineers take measurements and analyse data to perform checks. 

sprite plastic bottle on table

Let’s take a look at some real-life examples.  First up recycling:

We know there are plastic pollutants in our oceans.  Environmental experts are creating roadmaps which identify where different types of plastics come from.  By identifying those types which are on the increase, targeted measures can be put in place to reduce their use and increase ways they can be recycled.  It’s forecast that if we don’t do anything, annual flows of plastic into the oceans could triple by 2040, but if we invest in technologies to reduce and recycle the worst offenders, there could actually be an 80% REDUCTION. 

Another area of environmental engineering is waste disposal:

Waste management can be developing ways to safely get rid of yucky things.  And that’s not just things like dangerous and hazardous chemicals – but something almost every industry needs to think about, and that’s heat.  You might not think of heat as a waste product – after all, you can’t throw it in the bin, but heat contributes to global warming.  If that heat could be captured and reused, it would help reduce the amount of energy used and lost.  Waste heat from London Underground is already used to provide heating and hot water to more than 1,350 homes, a school and two leisure centres in North London.

timelapse photo of train

Another key area is public health:

Basically, it’s all about keeping us healthy, preventing disease and prolonging life.  Clean water is at the heart of this global issue – nearly one billion people don’t have clean water close to home, and diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor toilets kills a child every two minutes.  

In 2016, a young engineer called Adrian Lievano visited Kenya to help improve access to clean water.  He created a coconut-based carbon and earth-based ceramic container that purifies water. It sits perfectly on the back of a bike or motorcycle, which many people use, storing 12 litres of water and filtering a litre an hour.

And that’s our take on the letter E – it’s been EXCITING!  

If you would like to check out some other types of engineering, why not check out Electronic, Electrical or Energy engineering! 

Join us again next time to spin the wheel and explore another letter in the A to Z of Engineering!

Engineer Academy: A to Z of Engineering.

Created with support from a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious Grant 

Add a comment

A to Z of Engineering

Engineering is all around us! We’re exploring an A to Z of everything engineering from acoustics to zoos.

More From A to Z of Engineering