Engineering that will save the world

Have you got a desire to do good? A penchant for planet-saving solutions?

Engineering is your ticket to making a grand world difference every day with your career. These sustainable engineering projects aren’t just overhauling the way we power, feed and build our world. There’s breakthroughs in medtech that are changing the way we rehabilitate after injury, or education initiatives that are using engineering to make learning more immersive.

Read on to discover just how you can save the world with engineering.


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Which engineer are you?

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GOAL: Sustainability

TECH: PET recycling plant

By 2050, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

It’s a scary thought.

Darren Lomman is a mechanical engineer and he’s working to turn this problem around. Darren is setting up a reprocessing facility in Perth that recycles PET bottles into 3D printer filament for schools and there’s been a great response.

“For term three this year, we’re planning to expand from eight to 50 schools,” Darren says. The plant aims to be fully operational by mid-2019.

More info: Follow GreenBatch on Facebook

artificial intelligence
sustainable engineering projects - flight simulator

GOAL: Education for all

TECH: Aeromedical simulator

When Stephen Bornstein, aerospace engineer and founder of Cyborg Dynamics Engineering, saw the aeromedical simulator in action – in southern Australia as part of the outreach activities of the Royal Flying Doctor Service – he had an idea.

Stephen suggested adding a cockpit to the simulator to make the learning experience more engaging.

Once he got going, his engineering skills helped with every aspect of the project, “from the systems we put in, to making it more affordable,” Stephen says.

More info: RFDS Look! Up in the Sky schools program

GOAL: Access to electricity

TECH: Solar panels

In 2015, ANU graduate Rebecca Watts joined Engineers Without Borders to provide clean, affordable power for 20 households and a school in Ta Ping, a village in Cambodia.

“Working with local entrepreneurs, I was able to source good-quality solar panels and share information about renewable energy,” she says.

Rebecca hopes to broaden the idea of how people think about engineers (a man in a hard hat), to include a woman installing biodigesters in the developing world.

More info: EWB blog 

solar-panels - sustainable engineering projects
sustainable engineering projects

GOAL: Rehabilitation

TECH: Robotic hand

Many amputees won’t use prosthetics if they’re tough to operate.

So Denny Oetomo, an associate professor from the Melbourne Robotics Laboratory, is working on an easy-to-use robotic hand.

“We don’t want to make prostheses more complicated, rather understand what’s needed and drive the solution accordingly,” Denny explains. He is collaborating with surgical researchers to restore amputees’ sense of touch through artificial limbs.

More info: Robots with a Human Touch

GOAL: Food security

TECH: Remote sensing imagery

Anastasia Volkova founded Sydney-based tech startup FluroSat to help farmers grow more with less.

“FluroSat merges my aeronautical passions with a desire to make an impact in the world,” she says.

Anastasia’s vision all started with an engineering course at University of Sydney and evolved into a company that uses hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones or satellites to detect crop stress and optimise fertiliser use.

“Crop stressors are visible to the sensor before they are visible to a human eye,” Anastasia explains.

More info: flurosat.com

nanosensors sustainable engineering projects

GOAL: Better health

TECH: Colour-changing biosensors

Dr Rona Chandrawati is a biomolecular engineer from UNSW and is currently researching disease-detecting nanoparticles 100,000 times smaller than the width of human hair.

In a decade, nanoparticle kits could be used to test a drop of blood for cancer or flu.

“When the strip or solution changes colour, that means there is an indicator of the disease we are looking for,” Rona says.

More info: UNSW newsroom

GOAL: Fire safety

TECH: Fire safe timber structures

The market for timber buildings is expected to grow following new fire-safety engineering developments.

Dr Cristian Maluk from the University of Queensland is developing design tools that will enable understanding of how real timber structures could behave during and after fire.

“We are trying to highlight the key benefits of timber and how it can be used in an appropriate manner to build taller, build safer, and fulfil fire-safety considerations in the modern built environment,” Cristian says.

More info: UQ’s School of Civil Engineering

GOAL: Clean air and water

TECH: Water treatment system and improved cookstove

Millions of people die from water contamination or deadly gases from cookstoves with inefficient combustion.

Later this year, Dr Cris Birzer from the University of Adelaide hopes to save lives in countries such as India and Nepal and provide solutions for resource-constrained communities.

The aim? To create a cookstove that mixes combustible gases with air to burn cleanly, as well as a portable water treatment plant that uses sunlight to produce oxygen radicals that sterilise water.  

More info: Cookstoves for the developing world

– Nadine Cranenburgh

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