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University builds next generation of sustainable engineers

University of Southern Queensland is preparing future engineers to help create a cleaner world.

Technology and construction are important parts of any society – but they often come with a hidden toll.

As the population continues to grow, so too does the issue of waste, which is passed down through the generations.

The University of Southern Queensland’s Engineering faculty is taking steps to combat the rising tide of refuse by adding a sustainability component to its courses.

Senior Engineering Lecturer Andreas Helwig said in order to create a circular economy, where resources were continually reused, it was important to consider a product’s life cycle before the start of its construction.

“At the end of a product’s life, there are often costs related to its disposal, whether that be monetary, environmental or other,” Mr Helwig said.

“Every government in Australia wants zero landfill by 2025, and, in some cases, we don’t even know how to dispose of the items we are creating.

“What we are trying to do here is help our students consider the design for a product’s end of life, which can be fed into the circular economies to at least be cost-neutral, or better still to make a profit.”

The word waste often conjures up pictures of single-use plastics and local rubbish tips.

However, most fields are creating their fair share of scrap material.

“At the moment we are researching how to recycle solar panels,” Mr Helwig said.

“Top grade solar panels use borosilicate glass, which can withstand impact more than normal glass, however the EVA glue that forms the air-tight seal between the glass to the solar cells below makes it difficult to recycle.

“Further, when borosilicate glass is mixed with waste glass during the recycling process, it changes the viscosity of the new glass, causing significant manufacturing problems.

“If the crushed borosilicate glass and boron/phosphorous solar cells are buried in landfill, the boron leakage is an insecticide which has an environmental impact.

“This is where original design, not just life-cycle analysis but also end-of-life upcycling, could come into play.”

Mr Helwig said sustainability design would be an essential skill for future engineers.

“This is one of the big challenges facing our engineers this century,” he said.

“We have added the sustainability component to our Master of Engineering Practice industry project course and are now working to spread it to all of our programs by 2024.

“We want to give our students the edge and many of them are leaders in the industry.”

From high-rise buildings to revolutionary modern aircraft and motor vehicles, engineers are the driving force behind many of modern society’s greatest creations. Whether you want to become a leader in cutting edge technology or construction or respond to the growing pressures on the environment by providing innovative solutions that help sustainable development, the University of Southern Queensland has a degree to get you there.

Find out more about studying Engineering

andreas helwig standing by building at usq
Senior Engineering Lecturer Andreas Helwig talks on the importance of sustainable engineering