Environmental Systems Engineering I: Processes

University of Queensland

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Environmental Systems Engineering I: Processes

  • Host University

    University of Queensland

  • Location

    Brisbane, Australia

  • Area of Study

    Chemical Engineering

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    CHEM1020 + MATH1052

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Host University Units

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course Description
    This course provides an introduction to environmental engineering, including an overview of the Earth's carbon, nutrient and water cycles and how these cycles interact to support ecosystems and the biosphere. Energy and mass balances and basic chemical engineering skills are applied in analysis of major environmental issues worldwide (including population and urbanisation issues; resource depletion; climate change, air and water pollution; biodiversity and sustainable development) and the connections between these environmental problems and the core cycles which sustain life are investigated.


    Course Introduction
    Engineers play a key role in developing the technology, infrastructure and systems required to maintain and improve quality of life around world. To be sustainable, this must be done in a way which ensures that future generations will have access to the resources required to maintain their quality of life. In particular, sustainable development depends on healthy and resilient social, economic and environmental systems.In this course, we investigate the key environmental systems (or “earth system processes”), how these processes affect the ability of human societies to meet their needs, how they are affected by human activities, and the implications for engineers. 

    Part 1: Introduction to sustainable development, planetary boundaries to earth system processes, wicked problems, ecosystem services and green infrastructure.

    Part 2: Water quality and biogeochemical nutrient cycling. Carbon, water, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles in natural and man-made systems are investigated and quantified, through examining the underlying physical, chemical and biological processes, and human interactions with these cycles. Disruptions to carbon, water, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are discussed, including potential for mitigation and adaptation. 

    Part 3: Environmental and Systems Thinking.  Students are introduced systems thinking, including resilience, feedbacks, system archetypes, adaptive cycles and unintended consequences. These concepts are explained and applied using case-studies focussed on interactions betweeen water, energy and emissions. Social and economic aspects of sustainablity are also discussed. 


    Learning Objectives
    After successfully completing this course you should be able to:

    1  Remember: Students should be able to: •    Define the term "green infrastructure", give an example, compare green and grey infrastructure and explain some of the challenges to implementing and better managing green infrastructure •    Identify the key components of the carbon, water, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles and the time and space scales over which they occur and interact; •    Define and explain (with examples where appropriate) the terms sustainable development, wicked problems, resilience, green infrastructure, planetary boundaries, Anthropocene, adaptive cycle, unintended consequences, the Prisoner's dilemma, complex system; •    Explain some of the principles and methods involved in the management of water quality in different ecosystems (river, lakes, estuaries, groundwater)

    2  Understand: Students should be able to: •    Explain some of the key physical, chemical and biological processes which underpin the carbon, water, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and explain how they interact over different the temporal and spatial scales; •    Describe some of the feedbacks which occur within the climate system, and why these make predictions difficult •    Interpret why there might be different responses to reduced nutrient loads in waterways •    Distinguish between different phases of the adaptive cycle, and give examples of where these occur, possible causes and impact for humans •    Explain and compare different wastewater management approaches; Explain and identify embodied vs direct emissions/resources

    3  Apply: Students should be able to: •    Develop a process flow diagram for a process or an engineered; •    Conduct a mass balance over a simple environmental system or an engineering process •    Apply basic chemistry, physics and maths to perform simple calculations of different processes which affect nutrient, water and/or oxygen (e.g. yield rates from a chemical reaction, assess impact of atmospheric CO2 levels on ocean acidification, determination of oxygen consumption as the result of a wastewater discharge on a river, determination of steady-state phosphorus levels in lakes, estimate the time required for the tmigration of a groundwater contaminant •    Quantify how changes in inflows, outflows or generation rates will affect steady state conditions for a simple environmental system or an engineering process •    Apply simple sustainability metrics, e.g. embodied water, ecological footprint

    4  Analyse: Students should be able to: •    Explain significance, applications and limitations of concepts including "sustainable development", "wicked problems" and "resilience"; Determine possible feedbacks within a simple environmental system or an engineering process, and evaluate how these feedbacks might affect predictions •    Identify the relative contribution of embodied and direct emissions/resources, and assess how the definition of system boundary affects the final results

    5  Evaluate: Students should be able to: •    Evaluate the relative merits and limitations of different wastewater management approaches; Evaluate the difference between simple mass and energy balance and resilience thinking in assessing environmental impacts of different systems; analyze a recognised environmental problem in terms of interactions between earth systems processes, identifying some of the important time and space scales involved; Given a case-study of an environmental problem (with social and economic dimensions), use conceptual and/or mathematical models to investigate how different components of the system interact, and evaluate how the problem might be resolved or exacerbated.

    6  Work safely in the chemical engineering building

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.