Green infrastructure: New tool to help construction industry reduce carbon footprint

Originally posted on U of T Engineering News by Tyler Irving.

Professors Brenda McCabe, Daman Panesar, Shoshanna Saxe, Heather MacLean and Daniel Posen (all CivE) are collaborating with companies in construction, building services and engineering consulting to reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of future infrastructure projects. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

 

A team of researchers from U of T Engineering is partnering with the construction industry to help reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, bridges, public transit and other major infrastructure projects.

“What we’re building is a decision-support tool that can be used in the early stages of design and planning,” says Professor Heather MacLean (CivE), one of five U of T Engineering professors involved in the project. “Ultimately, the goal is to produce infrastructure with much lower greenhouse gas impact.”

While green building certification programs have existed for decades, MacLean and her collaborators — including Professors Brenda McCabeDaman PanesarDaniel Posen and Shoshanna Saxe (all CivE) — point out that these are typically considered only toward the end of the design process, when most major decisions have already been made.

“The decisions that have the most impact are the ones that are made early in the process,” says Saxe, who specializes in analysis of transit infrastructure. “These include how big it’s going to be, or what materials it will be made of. Once those are set, it really puts limits on how low the overall emissions can get.”

Nearly a year ago, the team was approached by EllisDon, a major construction and building services company headquartered in Mississauga, Ont. As part of its Carbon Impact Initiative, the company and its partners, including BASF and WSP, are collaborating on projects that aim to elevate efficiency and sustainability in the built environment.

In their early talks, the researchers and industry partners quickly identified science-based decision support in the early stages of project planning as a key strategy for emissions reduction. They plan to analyze data from previously constructed projects and publicly available databases to generate predictive tools.

“Large-scale infrastructure projects are complex, consisting of many different construction activities, along with associated inputs of material and energy,” says MacLean. “We don’t yet have good data about the on-site and supply-chain emissions associated with these inputs, especially those specific to the Ontario context. If we can cut down on that uncertainty, it will greatly help inform these types of decisions.”

Today, the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science announced that the project was among those that received funding through the TargetGHG program, administered by Ontario Centres of Excellence, which supports industry-academic collaborations that will help the province meet more aggressive future GHG targets.

“Supporting the efforts of large industries in their quest to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is an important part of our government’s Climate Change Action Plan,” says Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “With the help of our province’s innovative cleantech companies, the TargetGHG program will help build a prosperous, low carbon economy and create a cleaner, more sustainable future for Ontario.”

In total, the project has attracted more than $2 million in funding from a variety of sources, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) as well as financial and in-kind contributions from the industrial partners.

“Taking steps to reduce the impacts of greenhouse gases and air pollution on our climate and environment is a key priority in Canada,” says Dr. Marc Fortin, Vice-President, Research Partnerships, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. “NSERC is proud to partner with Ontario Centres of Excellence to connect Canada’s top researchers and companies to develop innovative clean technologies that will advance environmental sustainability in Canada and improve the health and quality of life of Canadians.”

“This project is a wonderful example of how our researchers leverage strong collaborations with industry to develop next-generation solutions to society’s most pressing challenges, including climate change,” said Ramin Farnood, Vice-Dean, Research at U of T Engineering. “This tool has great potential to enhance the sustainability of major infrastructure not just here in Ontario, but around the world.”

A second U of T Engineering project, focused on installation and testing of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles, also received funding through the TargetGHG program. Led by Professor Reza Iravani (ECE), it will be carried out in collaboration with energy storage company eCAMION.

MacLean and her team are already looking to recruit the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who will collect and analyze the data, and continue to work closely with their industrial partners as they move forward.

“It’s exciting to be working with partners that are eager to roll out solutions,” says Posen. “We have had great meetings, and we have a strong sense they are looking to turn this research into practical results.”

The S-WORD: Defining Sustainability

#Sustainability?

Today, people argue, the power of the word ‘sustainability’ has been diluted due to overuse. What began as a noble ideal has been reduced to a mere buzzword. We sat down with some of our professors to understand how ‘sustainability’ is more than hype for them and their research.

 

Professor I. Daniel Posen
Research Focus: Providing system-scale environmental sustainability analysis for policy development

Large-scale systems are inherently complex. When holistically evaluating the ‘sustainability’ of a system a broad range of environmental, societal and economic metrics compound the matter. Naturally, a professor with such a research focus has a complicated relationship with the word ‘sustainability’. Riddled with over-hyped products, under-delivering theories and overall ‘greenwashing’, Professor Posen believes the discourse is weak.  He particularly notices the current lack of numerical definition.

Posen’s research exists at the intersection of engineering, environmental science, economics and public policy. His cross-discipline approach engenders a complete evaluation of all ‘sustainability’ efforts. It is with this integrated analysis that Professor Posen seeks to inform future system designs yielding greener outcomes.

Success in his quantitative analysis for policy development depends on capturing all factors, inputs and circumstances. The accuracy and availability of data, the consistency of modelling efforts across fields and the incorporation of nascent technologies are some challenges he must address. The variables are numerous, nuanced and involve advanced statistical analysis. Iterations are necessary to provide confidence ranges and uncertainty measurements to help craft policies.

Appropriately, Posen views ‘sustainability’ through a system-wide lens, considering the triple-bottom line inclusive of social, ecological and financial effects. He believes to operationalize ‘sustainability’ it must be reduced to measurable properties. Developing empirical tools to assess current levels, magnitude changes and confidence levels are all integral points in sustainability’s definition. Once these methodologies are in place, it is important to tell the data’s story accurately and without bias mobilizing policy makers driving real change.

With recent developments of the pan-Canadian climate framework addressing the country’s 2030 emissions reduction targets, Posen’s research plays an essential tool for government. Most recently, in conjunction with Professor Heather MacLean and a charitable environmental organization called Pollution Probe, Professor Posen is working on a white paper providing analysis to the Government of Ontario. The paper will provide guidance in provincial emissions from indirect land use change and carbon accounting for biofuels as part of both Ontario Renewable Fuel Standard and Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard.

“It is necessary to remember that though governments can shift and mandate new targets, magnitudes of change in one area will have consequences in another,” Posen says. These market-rebound and indirect effects are an important consideration in Professor Posen’s research.

“It is not as simple as implementing biofuels to reduce green house gases (GHG),” says Posen. According to the professor when addressing GHG mitigation strategies, policy makers need to consider the totality of costs and benefits associated with the proposed protocols. If a food production crop is replaced with a bio-fuel-bound crop, this change will have implications not only in the energy sector but also for world hunger and food scarcity problems. Once bio-fuel crops are harvested, refining the biomass consumes energy, processing will affect air quality and the infrastructure needed to support distribution efforts requires investment. These are only a sampling of considerations to address when evaluating and selecting among the competing uses for biomass and prioritizing GHG mitigation strategies.

Other examples of sustainability analysis issues include prioritizing certain sectors before others, market price fluctuations and accounting for technologies that currently do not exist. New developments create alternative scenarios. Policy makers forge new directions with each new regulation. Some directions will lead to fruitful and tangible results while others will lead to dead ends. Confounding the issue, attributing the origins of outcomes is difficult to disentangle empirically. Posen is working to identify new, precise measurement modelling to improve path forecasting.

Professor Posen’s previous work focused on large-scale systems at global and national levels. He is currently looking to address city-scale systems. As global leaders discuss and stipulate new green targets and frameworks, cities have an important role in implementing and driving their success.

“Often cities do not have an accurate picture of their current emission levels, for example. It proves difficult to identify necessary fundamental policy changes without data to inform the direction,” says Posen. “With increased capacity to collect, analyze and disseminate crucial data points, local officials can make substantial changes that benefit both the short and long run sustainability of cities.”

Professor Tamer El-Diraby
RESEARCH FOCUS: Construction management for societal and corporate changes

Professor El-Diraby agrees the conversation around ‘sustainability’ needs to be more than a passing fad. He notes, buzzword or not, ‘sustainability’ promotes positive results. “It is just a given nowadays,” he remarks. “Most governments, businesses and our society as a whole accept and are prioritizing its implications.”

El-Diraby notes his school-age children studying sciences are now learning through a lens of ‘sustainability’. The generational expectation for sustainable efforts is non-negotiable. Despite its hashtag status, he believes there is a general movement from generic thoughts to actionable policies and programs for energy conservation and climate change. “While we may be bored with its use, caring about these issues is the result of profound belief in ‘sustainability’,” says El-Diraby. The Professor warns that not all who use the term have noble intentions. Some companies are abusing the term and diluting its operational power.

In construction management, Professor El-Diraby focuses on more than just green technology and number crunching. He is interested in the business case, change management and the sociology of embracing ‘sustainability’. The professor is using social network analysis to help discover how communities – both citizens and professionals – view ‘sustainability’. Through crowdsourcing, the Professor is sifting through the noise uncovering interesting insights.

A large portion of his research examines how to manage and support implementation efforts for ‘sustainability’. Leveraging data analytics to help managers discover new knowledge or patterns of change, El-Diraby develops tools to help coordinate decision-making.

Across the global construction industry, many of the environmental and economic challenges with infrastructure systems are the same. However, the social aspects of ‘sustainability’ vary with the developmental phase of the city and country.

In Canada, with pre-existing infrastructure, governing bodies are seeking to change long-standing unsustainable construction practices. In a country like China, which is building new infrastructure, there is an opportunity to incorporate green construction and promote sustainable habits from the beginning. China is seeking to develop while Canada is seeking to optimize its developed systems. The methods are distinct but overall the goals remain the same.

Potential game changers are close, Professor El-Diraby believes for the construction management industry. He is confident the future is poised for many new impacts, which will improve the health and livability of our cities.

Automation | 3D printing and robotics are increasingly used. These technologies provide significant productivity improvements and elevate our capacity to examine complex problems.

Digitization | New technology called Building Information Modeling (BIM) is allowing sophisticated analysis and enhanced cross-border collaboration. The supply chain for construction design, finance and production is globalizing and yielding great benefits.

Net-generation | New construction customers are perceptive. They are acutely aware of sustainable energy options. These new players will force the industry to surpass green regulations and adapt to serve consumer demands.

Modern cities | There is a need for installing and re-configuring our infrastructure to accommodate new urban technologies such as driverless cars.

Professor Evan Bentz
RESEARCH FOCUS: Concrete and structures standing the test of time

“Sustainability is indeed a word that has become less powerful due to repeated use, but still represents an important concept,” says Professor Bentz. Speaking as a concrete expert, the term evokes similar feelings to “resilience” – which the Professor notes is also pervasive in the industry.  In both cases, Bentz believes these terms are important considerations and afford design engineers a point of reference when talking with building owners.

Bentz laughs when he recalls the reception the term artificial intelligence received during the 1980’s. Back then, engineers believed AI was probably impossible and discredited the term quickly. Fast forward to 2017 and AI is now a worthy pursuit many corporate giants are chasing. His bit of trivia elucidates; trending or not, engineers must address ‘sustainability’ today and ready themselves for the unexpected of tomorrow.

When studying concrete, Bentz uses ‘sustainability’ to imply longevity and practicality. “As engineers we need to build lasting structures and, given the constraints of the project, use materials as efficiently as possible,” says the Professor.  “In a sense, it is an attempt to provide an accounting of environmental issues previously neglected by our profession.” Improving building codes and creating increasingly efficient structures are just some of the ‘sustainability’ concepts involved in Bentz’s research.

Viewing ‘sustainability’ from a global perspective, there are only so many construction materials available on this planet. However, despite limited material types, their applications can be vastly different. The surrounding landscape of a building in Toronto is vastly different from a structure in Abu Dhabi. “This is why ‘sustainability’ issues are not taught as a single set of rules like design code regulations,” says Bentz.  “Instead they represent more of a way of thinking and that is partly why we teach ‘sustainability’ in all four years of our program.”

What important changes does the Professor foresee in the future?

Firstly, the availability of timber for large structural projects. “The stuff grows on trees,” he quips.  Another is the potential for large carbon taxes – much larger than current proposals, which could change our concrete mixes. Rather than designing with a small amount of high performance (and high strength) concrete, we might move back towards the older methods of having larger structural elements with a lower carbon footprint per cubic metre.

The most precipitous change for the professor will relate to cement production. Today, cement requires the burning of coal, which is a long-term problem. A cheap and greener method to create concrete would be a game changer for the Professor and industry at large.

Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou
RESEARCH FOCUS: Air quality, transportation and green house gases in cities

Disconcerting but repairable – describes Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou’s position on the word ‘sustainability’. She believes the term is too widely used and more often than not conveys naught. “I don’t think we should stop using it, I actually think we should straighten how it is used,” remarks the Professor.

Like Professor Posen, Hatzopoulou thinks of ‘sustainability’ as the triple bottom line. She does not appreciate the expansions and reimagining efforts people make corrupting triple bottom line’s simplicity. To the Professor, it is a straightforward concept: “We must evaluate the consequences of our decisions on the natural environment, on people and on the economy. Because without a growing economy, I don’t believe that we can be creative or sustainable,” says Hatzopoulou.

‘Sustainability’ drives her research where she specifically looks at air pollution, green house gases and transportation. She admits that her work cannot improve an entire system but, when combined with other research, there can be great change. “I don’t think any researcher can claim that their work on its own will improve the ‘sustainability’ of our cities and society but coalescing knowledge is what really matters.”

In an increasingly complex world, Hatzopoulou’s work on air pollution involves understanding the problem before outlining solutions. Transportation sources create the most air pollution in cities but there is more to the equation. Because air moves, travels, mixes and disperses, assigning responsibility is difficult. The Professor notes the motivation, not just the source of pollutants, is complicated. Those who drive may choose to do so because they do not have access to more “sustainable” forms of transportation. Policy-makers can only affect change within the constraints of their budgets. The automotive industry first and foremost must respond to customer demands. There are many factors to consider and her work looks to account for all.

Though Hatzopoulou may be dismayed by the use of ‘sustainability’ overall she believes Canadians are particularly well versed on green options. “The problem is not a lack of education, the problem exists at a governmental level where long-term and strategic planning is needed to address our uncertain sustainability in the future,” she says.

Road transport emissions and urban air quality have obvious implications to the overall health of our planet. The Professor believes one major change in the future will be autonomous vehicles and all other forms of automated transportation systems. Their ramifications on energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution will shape our cities and the lifestyles for all our residents.

Professor Lesley Warren
RESEARCH FOCUS: Cleaning dirty water from mineral extraction activity

Sustainability through a southern Ontario lens – is what Professor Lesley Warren calls it. In her research, when discussing the importance of ‘sustainability’, most people view the issue with an urban bias.  This is not a problem exclusive to Ontario – throughout the world, residents of urban areas often have a louder voice as over 60% of the world’s population lives in cities.

When thinking of ‘sustainability’ Prof. Warren explains people often overlook the integral role rural and underdeveloped areas of the country play in the ‘sustainability’ of our cities. “From the screens you read your emails on, to the fuel used to power commuter traffic, land far from urban centres has a direct impact on city green efforts,” Warren says.

The Professor is cautious when discussing ‘sustainability’ noting it is an ambiguous and at times pejorative term, which many exploit to oversell products, ideas or initiatives. “It is important to understand the deliverables for green efforts. Without full agreement on desired results, the word is more about marketing than driving tangible solutions,” states Warren.

An effective ‘sustainability’ definition begins with experts uniting and coalescing knowledge from across disciplines and contexts. She reiterates the complex nature of the term, noting that the many stakeholders and perspectives influence the term’s meaning.

City policies have great impacts on rural communities with close ties to the mineral extraction industry; mining wastewaters produced hundreds of kilometers away from urban environments have lasting impacts on cities’ health. Considering the interdependence, our population must come together and consolidate its efforts.

Warren recalls a poignant comment said to her years ago. After mining activity had contaminated the only water supply in a farmer’s African town, he remarked, “You can’t drink money.”  This statement has stuck with the Professor driving her efforts to measure ‘sustainability’ in more than dollar and cents. She regards stewardship, life quality and economic impacts as critical considerations to elicit the best results for the planet.

Collaborating with many mining industry leaders in her research, Warren points to the environmental champions. These advocates not only are reacting to problems, they are adopting proactive tactics. They are minimizing impacts and mining’s environmental legacy for future generations. Mineral extraction is important for the medical equipment discovering new treatments, for the microprocessor in our phones connecting loved ones across the world and for fertilizers responsible for our global food supply. And as we continue to meet our resource demands we can do so mitigating our environmental impacts.

An issue Professor Warren looks to address in the importance of sustainability is in water. It is a precious and finite resource and something the mining industry needs in vast quantities. In areas prone to water scarcity there are competing needs to address. Once minerals are extracted, the wastewater produced must be dealt with safely and securely. Upstream R&D is a focus for Warren. Engaging with industry partners, the Professor and the Lassonde Institute of Mining (LIM) and the new Lassonde Mining Hub (LMH) are pioneering new technologies that will dramatically transform the industry and create proactive solutions.

TRENDING HASHTAG OR MOBILIZING QUESTION?

It is clear that the S-word has been reduced to a hashtag moniker for a trending movement. However, the nobility of effort is something to be celebrated. Mobilizing effects are palatable if the repetition does not alienate people first. Regardless of the trend, the word must amount to more than limited improvements and prioritize significant impacts. Clearly, to do so, definition is important.

The way public discourse uses the word ‘sustainable’ is undoubtedly unsustainable. Green. Eco. Globally-conscious responsibility. The list can go on. Whatever the word choice, the motivation is there and is important to all engineers.

Evolving eco-conscious terminology aside, our professors move past the hype and define ‘sustainability’ for impact and solutions. Here is a recap:

  • Professor Posen wants more numbers.
  • Professor El-Diraby wants to move past generic ideas to thoughtful examination.
  • Professor Bentz wants to ignore the over-use and see the term for that which it inspires.
  • Professor Hatzopoulou wants the term straightened-out.
  • Professor Warren wants a dual-lens from both urban and rural perspectives.

#EveryDropMatters: Five ways U of T engineering research is enhancing water sustainability

Amy Bilton, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and graduate student Ahmed Mahmoud examine a model of a passive aerator for fish farms that they are designing (photo by Roberta Baker)
Posted on August 16, 2017 | Originally Appeared on U of T News by: Tyler Irving

 New exhibit brings water research and innovation to Canadian National Exhibition

 Fresh water, salt water, wastewater, industrial water, drinking water: all water on Earth is part of the same cycle – and every drop matters. Yet around the world, water supply and quality is under increasing pressure from growing populations, industrial development and climate change.

Researchers at U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering are leading the way in addressing these pressing global challenges. Professors and students are working together to use UV light to destroy chemical contaminants, develop low-cost solutions for sanitation and effectively control and mitigate pollution by studying and deploying ancient organisms.

During the 2017 Canadian National Exhibition, U of T engineering students will showcase the innovative and multidisciplinary solutions being developed in the faculty. At this interactive exhibit, CNE attendees can test their awareness of water consumption and conservation topics with a short quiz, share on social media and win a reusable water bottle.

Here are five ways that U of T engineering researchers are addressing pressing water challenges, across Canada and around the world:

Purifying drinking water


Zhjie Nie takes a sample at a Toronto-area drinking water treatment plant for her project on using activated carbon to remove contaminants (photo by Ron Hofmann)

From caffeine to birth control pills, most of the drugs we take pass through our bodies into wastewater and eventually into lakes and rivers. To keep our drinking water clean, we need new strategies to remove these pollutants.

In partnership with a number of municipalities, Robert Andrews, a professor of civil engineering, and Ron Hofmann, an associate professor of civil engineering, are testing a set of new approaches known as advanced oxidation. They blast water with everything from ultraviolet light to ozone, breaking down chemical compounds and leading to safer and cleaner drinking water.

Learn more about Andrews’ and Hofmann’s research

Restoring contaminated groundwater

photo of sleeping lab
Brent Sleep oversees the establishment of the Remediation Education Network, which researches new technologies to decontaminate soil and groundwater (photo by Roberta Baker)

Across North America, thousands of sites have been contaminated with industrial compounds. These contaminants can be degraded by bacteria, but the process is slow.

Brent Sleepa professor of civil engineering, and his team are tackling the challenge through a project called Innovative Technologies for Groundwater Remediation (INTEGRATE). The INTEGRATE team is accelerating the process by pre-treating soil and inserting custom communities of more efficient bacteria that break down contaminants more quickly.

Elizabeth Edwards, a professor of chemical engineering, also pursues this approach and has developed a commercial product that is particularly good at degrading chlorinated compounds, formerly used in dry cleaning facilities: a community of microbes called KB-1. More recently, she’s developed a new microbial community that can degrade benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes – collectively known as BTEX – in soil and groundwater.

Learn more about Sleep’s research

Learn more about Edwards’ research

Sustainable sanitation


A team of U of T engineers has been hard at work building a better toilet for the 2.5 billion people who lack access to safe sanitation (photo by Centre for Global Engineering)

Worldwide, about 2.5 billion people – a third of the global population – have no access to safe sanitation. This lack of hygiene is linked to the spread of many preventable diseases, such as diarrheal diseases that kill more than 500,000 children under the age of five every year.

A team led by chemical engineering professor and director of the Centre for Global Engineering, Yu-Ling Cheng, is developing a waterless toilet that can disinfect human waste without connections to water, sewer or grid power. With a total cost of less than five U.S. cents per person per day, it is designed for users in the developing world.

Learn more about Cheng’s research

Designing for stormwater


Jennifer Drake and her students research ways to design our urban infrastructure to be resilient to storm surges, including this catchbasin shield that can capture sediments from stormwater runoff (photo by Pavneet Brar)

Buildings and roadways are designed to get rid of water as quickly as possible – but that can be a disaster during heavy rains, when it often leads to urban flooding.

Jennifer Drake, a professor of civil engineering, is using technologies such as water-permeable pavement to restore natural flow systems, which allow groundwater deposits to recharge more slowly and encourage river-like flows of runoff. She is also optimizing the design and cost-effectiveness of green roofs, which can reduce peak stormwater flows.

Learn more about Drake’s research

Rethinking resource extraction remediation

Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry (photo courtesy of Lesley Warren)

The mining and resource extraction industries generate millions of litres of contaminated wastewater annually, the chemistry of which is controlled by ancient microorganisms that breathe minerals in order to survive. An academic-industrial collaboration led by Lesley Warren, a professor of civil engineering and director of the Lassonde Institute of Mining, is studying the genomes of these organisms, gaining insight that could help both clean up contaminated water and prevent pollutants from forming in the first place.

Learn more about Warren’s research

New partnership establishes a Canadian teaching city for engineering students

Optimizing traffic flow between the City of Oshawa, at right, and Toronto, lower left, is one challenge that Master of Engineering students in the Cities Engineering and Management program at U of T will study in the newly established ‘teaching city.’ (Image: Google Maps)

 Medical doctors learn in immersive teaching hospitals — and now U of T Engineering students will have their own immersive learning opportunities within a real-life teaching city. Later this year, the City of Oshawa will become Canada’s first-ever living laboratory for urban research, allowing students to probe complex municipal issues and test practical solutions for the future.The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is teaming up with the Canadian Urban Institute, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Durham College and the City of Oshawa to realize this first-of-its-kind partnership. As a ‘teaching municipality,’ Oshawa will connect engineering students with city staff, testing new technologies and methods on the ground and in real time.

“This is a new era for engineering education,” says Professor Brent Sleep, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering. “With this innovative partnership, through internships and research opportunities U of T Engineering students, including students in the Master of Engineering in Cities Engineering and Management (MEngCEM) program, will study and resolve real-life problems in today’s urban setting.”

A memorandum of understanding between the partners was signed June 5, 2017 at the Arts Resource Centre in downtown Oshawa. The coalition continues to invite participation from a variety of industry partners, which will expand the potential application areas for innovations studied in the city, including market-focused solutions for commercialization.

Moving beyond textbooks and laboratories, this dynamic urban lab will bring students and researchers closer to emerging trends. Potential areas for exploration could extend from current U of T studies in intelligent transportation systems, sustainable urban infrastructure including air pollution and health, drinking water systems and building sciences. The partnership will also seek to deepen evidence-based policy development and research-driven innovations from U of T MEngCEM students.

“Access to real-time urban data and systems will provide significant insights and transformative opportunities to assess problems and identify scalable and sustainable solutions for tomorrow,” says Sleep. “Learning outside lecture halls encourages students to interact with a multitude of stakeholders, learning to support and interact with policymakers, residents and their future colleagues.”

As urbanization intensifies the pressure on cities — from increased demand on utilities, to greater need for emergency services and schools, to urgent need for traffic and transit upgrades — a new generation of highly trained engineering talent will guide and manage new technologies, policies and practices to meet the needs of citizens across Canada and around the globe. The first student cohort will begin studying this experiential teaching municipality in 2018.

Preparing the next generation of engineering leaders to grow Africa’s megacities sustainably

Posted originally on U of T News | May 30th, 2017 by Tyler Irving.

Left to right: Rahim Rezaie (U of T Engineering), Erastus M. Mwanaumo (Assistant Dean, School of Engineering, University of Zambia) and Professor Murray Metcalfe (U of T Engineering) at the University of Zambia. A partnership between U of T Engineering and various institutions in Africa aims to prepare the engineering leaders who will build the world’s fastest-growing cities.

Today, seven of the world’s 100 largest cities are in Africa. But by 2050, population models predict that this will rise to 21, and eventually reach 40 by the end of the century. By then, Africa will be home to five of the world’s ten largest cities, each with more than 50 million residents. That’s why U of T Engineering postdoctoral researcher Nadine Ibrahim (CivE) is delivering lectures to students half a world away.

Educational tools such as massively open online courses (MOOCs) offer a way for Ibrahim and her colleagues to share their expertise in sustainable cities with the students who will lead African cities through the coming transformation.

“There is a lot of infrastructure to be built, and a lot of engineers will be required to build it,” says Professor Murray Metcalfe, who is Professor, Globalization at U of T Engineering and the project director. “That creates a tremendous opportunity for African leaders to drive development that happens in a way that is sustainable, both economically and environmentally.”

Earlier this month, Ibrahim and her colleagues used an online platform to deliver a course on sustainable cities to a group of students at the African Leadership University in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Instructors were spread across four locations — Toronto, Oshawa, Boston and Mauritius — and at one point the students had to deal with torrential rains that kept them confined to their dorms, but the pilot project was deemed a success.

The three-day course served as the first test of the team’s larger and more ambitious goal: to develop scalable online courses that will help prepare the next generation of engineering leaders building sustainable cities across the entire African continent.

Ibrahim is adapting material from a course she teaches to undergraduate and graduate students at U of T: CIV 577 Infrastructure for Sustainable Cities. “The course challenges students to design an urban area, such as the port lands of Toronto, through to the year 2050,” she says. “This year students selected eight cities, including Cape Town and Dar es Salaam. It was very successful, and allowed us to see that this would work with students around the world.”

The team has spent the last several months laying the groundwork for a strong network of local partners across the African continent. Last summer, Ibrahim and PhD candidates Kirstin Newfield (CivE) and Antoine Despres-Bedward (OISE) travelled to institutions in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. They also attended a conference organized by the African Virtual University, an online-only institution based in Dakar, Senegal and Nairobi, Kenya.

Left to right: Professor Jackoniah Odumbe (Centre for Online and Distance Learning), Antoine Despres-Bedward (OISE ), Kirstin Newfield (U of T Enginering), Nadine Ibrahim (U of T Engineering), Professor James Nyangaya (Mechanical Engineering), Professor David Otieno Koteng (Civil and Construction Engineering), Professor Ernest Odhiambo (Mechanical Engineering) at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

A few months later, Metcalfe and research associate Rahim Rezaie followed up with a trip to institutions in Zambia, South Africa, Ghana and Ethiopia, and participated in the African Engineering Education Association Conference.“Everywhere we went, we looked at the student populations and the online capabilities,” says Ibrahim. “We tried to imagine what a virtual global classroom, and eventually a virtual lab, would look like. Everyone we talked to was excited about the project.”Among other collaborators on the project are Professor Brent Sleep (CivE), who is the principal investigator on a Connaught Global Challenge Award grant that will fund various aspects of the project, Professor Greg Evans (ChemE) and Professor Dan Hoornweg (UOIT and adjunct in CivE). The team has also received support from the Dean’s Strategic Fund and the U of T Learning and Education Advancement Fund (LEAF).

Building on the success of the pilot course, the team is now working on the first two small private online courses (SPOCs) they plan to deliver starting in early 2018. Involving academics at African partner universities in co-developing the course content is central to the team’s approach. The courses will be a mix of live instruction, recorded lectures and assignments that can be completed online.

Metcalfe says that the rapid pace of growth in Africa offers a chance to leapfrog over some of the technologies that have hindered sustainability in the developed world. “The analogy everyone points to is cell phones,” says Metcalfe. “In India and Africa, they have skipped right over land lines and elaborate telecom switches to something with a smaller footprint. We think African cities can do something similar in urban infrastructure.”

But for Ibrahim, the most inspiring part has been the students. “Whatever the challenges, they make it work,” she says. “Their hunger for knowledge is very motivating.”