Student Blog: Introduction to Environmental Engineering

This blog post was inspired by Dr Sola Afolabi’s talk, part of our Speaker Series.

What is environmental engineering?

Environmental engineering is a job type which is a hybrid of many topics. These range from maths, chemistry, biology, hydrology and many other sub-topics, making this profession exciting and complex.

The aim of environmental engineering is to create solutions to worldwide problems, such as having potable water available for everyone to drink.

As the worldwide population continues to increase, this profession is becoming sought after more than ever. We are emitting more pollution in many ways through our unsustainable way of living, and environmental engineering works to combat this problem.

As a result, poorer countries suffer due to a lack of sanitation and deteriorating health. This means that environmental engineering is crucial to preserve our quality of life, and to prevent further damage to the earth.

Image source: https://www.isis.stfc.ac.uk/Pages/Water-the-liquid-of-life.aspx

What do environmental engineers do?

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.

One of the most important responsibilities of environmental engineering is to prevent the release of harmful chemical and biological contaminants into the air, water and soil.

They conduct studies on waste management and analyse the impact of construction projects on the environment.

As the environment is becoming more of a focus more than ever, jobs are available globally.

Why is it so important?

The lack of simple sanitation and worsening pollution and hygiene is becoming most prominent in poorer countries:

  • Approx. 4.5 billion people do not have access to clean sanitation
  • 4/5 of the population in Africa rely on solid biomass, mainly fuelwood and charcoal for cooking.
  • 600,000 Africans are killed every year from solid biomass every year.
  • Even towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 3 billion people worldwide still do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home and an estimated 2.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. (Source- WHO)
  • This shows that this profession is desperately needed around the world, as these problems need to be considered with affordability for the common person, as money is the main barrier between good health and sanitation for people in poverty.
Image source: https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/h2o.htm 

Projections for environmental engineering

The field is essential to contribute to the health and prosperity of the world, particularly as climate change is now at the top of the agenda. Climate problems have to be prevented before they materialise, because this crisis can’t be solved after the fact it needs to be mitigated with preventions. Whether improving water supplies, helping to grow the sustainable energy sector, or working with the public, experts and at-risk communities have to adapt to a fast-changing world. Environmental engineers in particular will be at the forefront of the solution to the most pressing concern of our time.

The way forward will be multidisciplinary; it will require cooperation on a global scale, and it will often require creating localized solutions that can operate independently of large-scale infrastructure.

How can environmental engineering affect our lives?

The purpose of environmental engineering is not only to help the people suffering in poverty, but also to change the way we live our lives:

Water scarcity

Freshwater availability is an ever-growing problem in the world, but what if I told you that we could get water from our atmosphere? What do you mean? Well, skywater technology has a possibility of making an entrance to our lives pretty soon:

  • While the atmosphere only contains an estimated 0.04 percent of the world’s freshwater, that percentage translates into 12 quadrillion gallons of water. 
  • According to the chief officer of XPRIZE—a design competition to create technological advances for a better, safer, and more sustainable world, this is 300 million times the amount that 7 billion people need for household needs! This prize-winning innovation combines two formerly separate technologies: dehumidification and biogasification.
Human waste management

According to the WHO), two billion people- one out of every four people on earth—do not have access to sanitation facilities, and 673 million people are currently defecating out in the open. Bill Gates attempted to tackle this problem by introducing the first innovation to the toilet in over 200 years.

  The “tiger toilet” is a self-contained vermicomposting toilet that requires no sewer system and very little water to function. It is a simple pour-flush toilet on top of a worm-filled compartment. The name of the toilet comes from the tiger worm (Eisenia fetida), whose natural habitats are animal dung heaps and who are crucial in the tiger toilet revolution.

The toilets are simple yet extremely effective. After doing their duty, a person’s fecal matter drops down into a vermifilter (a container) where the tiger worms then eat and process the waste. 

The worms remove 99 % of the pathogens and leave behind less than 15% of waste by weight—a biomatter rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, and potassium that can be removed from the system and used for fertilizer. This would also make it cheaper and more environmentally friendly for farmers.

Closing Remarks

The importance of this profession in the field of modern science is yet to be appreciated, as more opportunities are yet to be uncovered in the fight against climate change and managing the ever-growing human population.

As highlighted earlier, these are just some examples of the potential of this profession, and how important it could be in the future.

Hopefully you enjoyed, thank you for reading!

Written by Malick, a Year 11 student at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy

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