Environmental Engineering

Environmental Engineering researchThe Environmental Engineering Research Group works with the UNSW Water Research Centre (WRC) and the Sustainability Assessment Program. We develop tools for environmental management, investigate the fate of chemical and microbial contaminants in engineered and natural systems and apply risk assessment and life cycle analysis.

Research themes

The UNSW Water Research Centre is a leader in international multidisciplinary research in environmental engineering and sustainability for improving the aquatic and atmospheric environments.

The Water Research Centre has a wide range of research projects investigating the fate of contaminants in engineered systems (e.g. water and wastewater treatment plants) as well as in the natural environment. This includes physical, chemical and biological processes used to remove and/or transform dissolved, colloidal or particulate inert and biological matter to produce water of a suitable quality for the desired end use.

Investigations seek to optimise existing processes or research novel technologies to improve removal efficiency, energy efficiency and/or overall process sustainability. Such research helps ensure that:

  • public and environmental health is maintained,
  • there is adequate water supply despite periods of prolonged drought or population growth, and
  • valuable resources contained in used water are reclaimed and reused, including nutrients, energy and water itself. 

Our atmospheric and airborne pollutants research area looks at localised sources and long-range transport of airborne particles. Airborne particulate and gaseous pollutants are becoming increasingly recognised as harmful to the environment and human health. Their transport from urban centres to rural environments is becoming an increasingly recognised mechanism, requiring coordinated research across emission sources, airborne and atmospheric transport pathways and the depositional environment.

The Sustainability Assessment Program engages in national and international research to improve the methodological depth of sustainability assessment tools and the breadth of their application in organisations. The research group provides research and consulting services to industry and government focusing on environmental footprint analysis, life cycle assessment and sustainable consumption and production

Together with Australian universities and the CSIRO we have developed the ground-breaking Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory. With the hybrid life-cycle assessment capabilities of this virtual lab, we address research and policy questions around low-carbon built environments, sustainable cities and societies and the sustainable use of natural resources. Using holistic concepts such as life cycle thinking, industrial ecology and sustainable systems engineering we develop and apply: 

  • environmental input-output and footprint analysis
  • life cycle assessment, costing and management
  • integrated sustainability assessment and triple bottom line accounting
  • multi-criteria assessment and quantitative risk assessment

Our particular strength is in hybrid life cycle assessment, utilising the strengths of both process-based and input-output-based inventory techniques to enable the evaluation of multiple environmental impacts at a high level of detail and completeness. This improves the quality and reliability of information for applications such as eco-labelling of products, corporate reporting, supply-chain analysis, policy formation, and infrastructure selection.

The sustainable consumption and production theme includes research on solid waste management and recovery of solid wastes in manufacturing, construction and civil engineering projects towards sustainable development.

Research partnerships

The Environmental Engineering Research Group works with a number of industry and research partners to evaluate the environmental merits of alternative production options to inform sustainable decision-making. Selected examples include: 

  • Australian Research Council-sponsored projects on hydrology, water, wastewater, chemicals, materials and cities
  • Environmental Performance of the Australian food industry
  • Environmental Sustainability Assessment Tools for the Water and Construction Industries
  • Methodological improvements on Australian Life Cycle Impact Assessments
  • Nuisance and Harmful Algae Science-Practise Partnership with Melbourne Water
  • Product risk assessment projects with Sydney Water Corporation
  • Wastewater treatment projects with Beijing Origin Water
  •  Water quality projects with Water Research Australia