The role of technology, communication and public policy intersected at the inaugural Carbon Management Technology Conference.
IEEE-USA, along with eight other engineering societies, sponsored CMTC, and the United Engineering Foundation supported the Conference with a grant. It was designed to share the latest research and practices in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions believed responsible for accelerating adverse climate change.
“Engineers must be willing to take the extremely complicated topic of energy and effectively simplify the conversation to non-technical people, so that everyone can deal with the uncertainty and risk that are part of the realities we face today,” 2012 ASME President Victoria Rockwell said.
Technologists, professors and engineers offered participants more than 200 technical and panel presentations. Held at the Caribe Royale Hotel & Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., in February, it attracted approximately 300 people from around the world.
Rockwell was part of an impressive opening plenary session, Leading Engineering Engagement in Carbon Management. David Mongan, chair of the American Association of Engineering Societies, moderated the nine-engineer panel, which included 2012 IEEE-USA President Jim Howard.
“Engineers do more than design technology,” Rockwell said. “The challenges of providing a better future depend greatly on working within the growing social, economic and environmental circles that engineers must increasingly move within.”
Howard gave an overview of IEEE-USA, focusing on its government relations program, and its perspective on carbon management. He cited IEEE-USA’s congressional fellowships, support of high-tech R&D and National Energy Policy Recommendations. He also discussed going to Washington, D.C., to participate in IEEE-USA’s 2012 Energy Fly-In.
“Some of the things we learned from the various [congressional] offices we visited were that they really don’t understand engineering. They don’t understand technology, and they need our help–desperately,” Howard said.
Dr. Kent Peaslee, professor of metallurgical engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said it’s important for government decision makers “to have good information, because many times our policymakers do not have good engineering information. And as [engineering] societies, that’s important for us to [provide].”
Dr. Dale Keairns, a chemical engineer and executive advisor for Booz Allen Hamilton, likened the battle to mitigate the negative effects of carbon to other grand challenges the United States has faced: the Manhattan Project–which culminated in the nuclear bomb–the race to put a man on the moon, the war on cancer, and the Star Wars strategic defense initiative.
“If we look at the characteristics of these challenges, today’s challenges dealing with energy, food and water are significantly different,” Keairns said. “These past challenges were basically addressed by a technical community, and that technical community was basically in isolation from the rest of society, in terms of implementing and addressing those challenges.
“… So I believe we need to really effectively think about engaging the engineering disciplines and further thinking about how we can cross our own boundaries, and also cross our own engineering boundaries to reach out to the social sciences, public policy and other aspects of this whole collection of folk who are going to be required to address the challenges.”
Howard’s presentation showed that about 69 percent of U.S. electricity is generated from coal and natural gas, which together have a negative impact on the environment and climate change. He suggested all engineering disciplines should work together–and in many cases, already are–to electrify our transportation system, and provide “a smarter and stronger electrical infrastructure, energy efficiency and green power supply.”
Carbon Emissions a Global Problem
The control of carbon pollutants is becoming harder every day, particularly as people in developing economies, such as India, China and Brazil, become wealthier and consume more energy. More cars are now sold in China than anywhere else, and because most of them run on gasoline, they are producing additional greenhouse gas emissions.
“We cannot go into another country and tell them what they have to do, especially when it comes to developing nations,” Rockwell said. “They’re struggling to catch up and establish a quality of life that we all enjoy.”
Rockwell, who works as director of investment development for Air Liquide, thinks energy innovation will have a profound impact on all world industries and communities. To do this, existing infrastructure must be prepared to adapt to new technologies. A good example is Smart Grid, which seeks to apply modern computer, communications and control systems to the world’s electricity delivery system.
“We know that regulatory and policy issues are key barriers to implementation and that they are only going to grow more complex,” she said. “Siemens has said that cities are the growth engines of the future. Cities will require more energy, more clean water, better transportation, and what’s more, the world’s cities need to run cleanly and efficiently. Engineers shape cities, and that is an exciting challenge, if you want to make a difference in the world today.”
Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager, and a liaison to its Energy Policy Committee. IEEE-USA was a financial cosponsor of the Carbon Management Technology Conference.