SUS 7800B Sustainable Infrastructure

Spring 2019. Subject to refinement/updating.


Instructor: Nir Krakauer
Schedule: Thursdays 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Location: SH 207
3 credits 3 hours/week


Dr. Nir Krakauer

Course website:


1) Understand the major impacts of contemporary and historic infrastructure on planetary energy, water, and nutrient flows, biodiversity, and climate

2) Appreciate the principles behind widely-used sustainability measures, know some of their
applications, and be wary of their limitations

3) Recognize the physical basis, promises, and limitations of key emerging/innovative
technologies to meet human needs sustainably

4) Develop awareness of nontechnical factors that influence design and construction choices as relevant to sustainability

5) Prepare an engineering design to address sustainability concerns

6) Discover resources for further collaboration and training in an area of interest related to civil engineering for sustainability.

Course Requirements

Oral Presentations, Class Participation & Collaboration

This class will be of most value if everyone completes the readings and contributes from their experience and knowledge to in-class discussion, and the grading reflects this. Questions and comments are encouraged during lecture. Everyone will sign up for turns leading discussions based on some of the assigned readings. When it is your turn to lead a discussion, prepare a few slides (have both Powerpoint and PDF formats ready) highlighting what you see as the most relevant or interesting aspects in the reading and a few questions that can serve as a jumping-off point for discussion; plan for a total of about 15 minutes of presentation and discussion.

Written Assignments

Short papers: Each week, you will be asked to solve quantitative problems or write short
reaction essays of 1-3 pages based on some of the readings. The essays should touch on how the
readings related to material we've previously discussed and/or to what you learned elsewhere.
Please upload your assignments on Blackboard by the night before class.

Term project: Consider a specific engineering project (proposed, under construction, or implemented – it can be one you have been involved in or know about from colleagues or from the news media) intended to solve a particular problem, or compare two or more alternative plans or proposals for solving a problem. Based on the principles discussed in the course, you should study the problem and the proposed or implemented solution(s) from a sustainability point of view. Whenever possible, your analysis should be quantitative (life-cycle energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, cost, etc.) and integrative (discuss several sustainability-related aspects of a single project, instead of one aspect across several projects). You'll submit a written report (at least 15 pages double-spaced, due on the last day of class), and give a 15-minute talk in one of the last class sessions to summarize your project and main findings. Your report should be at least of the quality of a consulting engineer's report to a client, with all sources properly cited and with correct spelling and typography. A team may work together on a single project; in that case, your written report should be correspondingly longer and include an introductory page specifying who worked on what, and you will give a team presentation. The term project must include a dissemination component, such as submitting an article to a newspaper or journal, giving a talk to a general audience, or writing an Appropedia article based on your findings. In your report, you should summarize the dissemination activity you carried out and give copies or links to it.

Final exam: This will include some short essays and quantitative problems similar to the assignment questions and possibly also based on the term project presentations.

Topics must be approved in advance, based on a 1-2 page prospectus (due at Week 5, both on Blackboard and on paper). A first draft including all sections and main arguments must be submitted at Week 10 and will be returned with comments and suggestions. I will also be happy to comment on additional drafts of your work, given adequate time before the due date.

Some possible general topics for projects:

Municipal or agricultural water supplies
Dam/reservoir construction or removal
Small-scale water purification
Concentrating solar thermal
Electricity or heat storage methods
Integration of renewable energy in the power grid
Green roofs
Net-positive buildings
Community disaster resilience
Open-source architecture or engineering designs


Grades will be calculated and weighted as follows:

Class participation20%
Assignments and short essays15%
Term project45%
Final exam20%

Course Outline

Topics by week (approximate):

1) Introduction and overview: Global challenges in historical perspective; sustainability as today's engineering imperative; what does sustainability mean?; some case studies

2) Energy: Forms of energy; heat and temperature; the First Law; work and exergy; entropy; Second Law; adiabatic and isothermal processes; heat engine efficiency; energy carriers; energy density

3) Energy in the earth system: Solar and thermal radiation, the greenhouse effect, weather; transformations of energy by life; greenhouse gas sources; observed and predicted global warming impacts; strategies to limit emissions (mitigation); adaptation; geoengineering; ecological footprints

4) Thermodynamics of engineered systems: Assessing mass and energy balance and entropy generation; life cycle analysis; carbon footprint analysis; where are the system boundaries?

5) Energy Supply: Fossil fuels, solar, and geothermal systems; origin, history, availability, current applications, prospects

6) Water Supply: Requirements; the water cycle; water stocks and flows; water collection and storage; desalination

7) Water Quality: Wastewater; water contamination and purification; irrigation and salt buildup

8) Agriculture: Agroecology; soil erosion; nutrient loss; synthetic fertilizer; greenhouse gas and climate impacts

9) Building: Vernacular architecture; building comfort; passive solar; solar water heating; building integrated photovoltaics; green building; LEED and other standards

10) Transportation: Growth and impact by mode; fuels and energy sources; reducing demand (walkable communities, localization)

11) Implementing sustainability: Transition theory (paradigms, barriers, niches, crises); governments, professional associations, corporations, households; finance