Thursday, December 27, 2012
Saturday, September 29, 2012
The buzz word for the conference and for IWA in general is "smart." I'm told that this is a British buzz word which is probably why I'm quite comfortable with it. In a very interesting workshop on "Smart Networks" I saw a very nice definition of smart from a Korean colleague. In their definition a smart system is adaptable and can work with future unknowns, whereas an "intelligent" system knows how to work within current constraints based on historical information but is clueless when it comes to working outside of the current realm of knowledge. I like this notion of "smart" versus "intelligent" or knowledgable as it puts in mind someone who is on their toes and trying to be ready for the unforeseeable, whereas an intelligent system based on past knowledge is only comfortable in dealing with things that it has seen in the past. Of course the "smart" course of action builds on past knowledge and develops its intelligence based on historical experience but it is not constrained by it and is ready to adapt to new challenges as they appear. In another workshop on "Smart Utilities" there was a discussion on what "smart" actually means. We can appreciate it when we see it (Singapore is rightly held up as a good example of a smart water utility for example), but we seem to have difficulty in defining it. I'd like to offer a working definition for "smart" as it applies to the water industry. Here goes...
How's that for a definition? Please comment or send me an e-mail on your thoughts. Of course, I'm guessing others have already defined "smart" for other systems and have a much better definition but working in my vacuum in the water world, that's my definition for now! Tell me if I'm wrong.
A "smart" water system (network, utility, etc) uses the intelligence gained from historic data collection and the tacit knowledge of it's professionals to provide a system that is robust and adaptable to accommodate current normal demands, future perceived demands and potential anomalous conditions.
OK, I'm getting a little too serious for a blog. As light relief and as a poop engineer that loves things that put us a little off-balance, I'd like to offer the following as a definite highlight of my conference. At the project innovation awards I was honored to present the research of Professor Hans Van Leeuwen at Iowa State university who have done some cool applied research to convert waste corn stillage into an animal feed product (add link). In the session in which I gave a presentation of Prof Van Leeuwen's work, under the category of public communication I saw a presentation from Oslo that warms this Poop engineer's heart. Please be upstanding for the Poop Bus...
Friday, August 31, 2012
- It makes you think holistically. It's easy to be miopically focused on one environmental impact - hypoxia, eutrophication, carbon footprint, acid rain, etc. - but an LCA makes you consider all potential impacts. I offer the crass example of focusing solely on carbon footprint for wastewater treatment... the lowest CF for sewage treatment is no treatment and just let the sewage go into the river, lake or estuary! Of course this causes untold environmental and health impacts.
- It makes you think globally. It's easy to look at your own litte corner of a village, town, city, state, or country, but, in our global economy an LCA expands your considerations to a global perspective. In a recent LCA we did, for example, we considered the impact of using methanol. In digging into the data we discovered that our methanol came from Trinidad who are using their significant natural gas reserves to produce higher value products such as methanol. Who'd have thought?!
- It makes you think systematically. Your treatment plant is one cog in a huge anthropogenic and environmental system. An LCA makes you think about wider environmental impacts and maybe the solution to reducing environmental impacts lies outside of the boundaries of your own system. In wastewater the example I like is that water conservation (i.e. using less water in your home and in industries) has a significant impact on the quantity of wastewater that has to be treated, but also reduces the energy needed to pump it, the pipes needed to convey it and the energy used in a home to heat it... the chemicals needed to treat it, the water stress from abstracting it, the land needed to dam it and use it... shall I go on? But wait, I'm just a poop engineer looking at the wastewater end right? Hmm. Thinking.
- It makes you think about sources. In a very recent project we did an LCA that included glycerine use. Our glycerine is sourced as a byproduct of soy bean processing for biofuels. Inadvertently we put glycerine sourced from Brazil in our model and it showed a very high carbon footprint due to land clearance in the Amazon. Bad. Oh wait, our byproduct is actually from the US where we don't need to clear rainforest to produce soy beans. We selected the US beans and now we have a net carbon reduction due to carbon sequestration for this part of the model. I guess "buy local" is the key! (Unless you live in Brazil... think about it!)
- It makes you think. Environmental science and engineering are fascinating and complex issues. LCA makes me stop and think. I was trained as a chemical engineer and throughout my career I've been a process modeler which means I have an appreciation for mass and energy balances. LCA has several definitions, but it's basically the mother of all mass and energy balances! Sure it's imperfect and in many areas it uses crude approximations, but hey, it makes you think, holistically, globally and systematically!
Friday, August 24, 2012
We tried a similar thing for #wwtmod2012 which worked OK but the folks hogging the mike stuck more with their traditional mike-hogging at that conference and didn't contribute as much to the twittering!
WEFTEC will be tweeting away on #WEFTEC. If last year is anything to go by it will mostly be used by vendors encouraging people to look at their stands and a few folks tweeting comments on the technical sessions. That's cool I suppose.
It will be interesting to see how these conferences make use of Twitter and other social media and how the attendees take to them.
Monday, August 13, 2012
So maybe me using "poop engineer" for my blog title wasn't such a smart idea? But, hey, that's what I am and whatever you call it, it's a sweet topic to consider how we can take something with a negative image and turn it around to a positive!
Andrew Shaw: Week in the life of a poop engineer: This week was particularly varied so I thought it might be interesting to share it on my blog. So here goes (If I can remember because it ha...