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 engineering and natural systems and apply risk assessment and life cycle analysis.

At the heart of the global sustainability challenge is one central question: how to achieve and maintain human wellbeing without ever increasing natural resource depletion and irreversible damage to natural ecosystems.

Four decades of research indicate that technological and efficiency improvements have not been sufficient to achieve this goal and that a more fundamental transition of economic and social systems is necessary, along with a reorientation of values, institutions and governance.

Such a sustainability transition needs to be informed by scientifically robust information and evidence.  The Environmental Engineering Research Group engages in national and international research to improve the methodological depth of sustainability assessment tools and the breadth of their application in organisations.

Together with Australian universities and the CSIRO we have developed the ground-breaking Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory. With the Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory’s hybrid life-cycle assessment capabilities, we address research and policy questions around low-carbon built environments, sustainable cities and societies and the sustainable use of natural resources.

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.

Water and wastewater treatment is a broad research area that incorporates the study of 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.

Research in water and wastewater treatment is crucial in the effective and sustainable management of the urban water cycle.

The Sustainability Assessment Program provides research and consulting services to industry and government focusing on environmental footprint analysis, life cycle assessment and sustainable consumption and production.

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.

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.

Research partnerships

Our sustainability assessment tools and services are essential for organisations aiming to enhance the sustainability of their products and activities.

The Environmental Engineering Research Group works with industry and research partners to evaluate the environmental merits of alternative production options to inform sustainable business decisions. These include:

  • The Environmental Performance of the Australian Dairy Industry
  • Food Disposal Options in Multi-unit Dwellings in Sydney
  • Methodological improvements on Australian Life Cycle Impact Assessments
  • Environmental Sustainability Assessment Tools for the Water Industry
  • Environmental Rating Scheme for Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Systems.

We also collaborate with research and industry partners in the life cycle and environmental footprint community. Our main industry research partners are the Sydney Water Corporation, The Australian Red Meat Industry and Australian and New Zealand Dairy Industries.  Our main research partners are CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences and the Universities of Sydney, Queensland, Leeds (UK), California (Santa Barbara, USA) and Maryland (USA).

Research staff and students