Focus on green technology

Since we need to find ways to cause minimal damage to the environment, some of the fastest-growing jobs in the future will be in the fields of energy management and sustainability.

IN this article, the spotlight is on Green Technology. It is commonly referred to as environmental technology and clean technology.

The types of green technology are usually seen in energy usage efficiency (energy conservation), green buildings (use of materials that are non damaging to the environment), green chemistry (chemicals that are non-damaging to the environment) and green nanotechnology (use of materials at the smallest nanometer based on green principles).

Green technology is critical to the future of our society.

Its main significance is to find the means to produce technology in ways that do not damage or deplete the Earth’s natural resources.

The use of green technology is fundamentally to reduce the amount of waste and pollution that is created during the process of consumption and production. It promotes re-using and re-cycling.

With the undisputed importance of green technology for the progress of our society, it is vital to engage and prepare students in STEM education and to excite them about the career opportunities and the role they can play towards the conservation and preservation of the earth’s resources and environment.

One major focus of the green movement is the attempt towards a reduction in the use of fossil fuels through the creation of alternative energy such as solar panels and thermal heating discs which are some important green technology alternatives that can be incorporated into household appliances and used by consumers.

Solar panels use the sustainable heat of the sun to charge solar batteries which can be used for electricity instead of traditional and non-sustainable sources like gas.

Thermal heating discs, which are used in swimming pools suck the sun’s rays and radiate them over the pool’s surface, providing an alternative means of heating.

Then there is wind power which is the conversion of wind energy. It uses wind turbines to produce electrical power and windmills for mechanical power.

Wind power, as an alternative to fossil fuels, is renewable and clean.

Devices and systems can be designed to run on alternative energy instead of fossil fuels and gas. The use of green or bio-degradable chemicals can further reduce the risk of environmental harm.

A major innovation in the automobile industry is the development of the hybrid engine which can run on both gas and electricity.

Other more popular green technology products are the solar powered charging devices for laptops, phones and other portable appliances.

Home cleaning agents made out of coconut and glycerin could use more natural oils from local agricultural products instead of harmful chemicals.

Green technology education students in schools should preferably be exposed to the basic concept of Green Technology and this concept taken further through college and university to educate them on the importance of sustainability and environmental protection.

The education at university level could include exposure to industries and corporations that practice green technology, information on related research activities, industrial training, seminars, participations in competitions and collaborations with the industry.

Green technology education could also involve authentic experiences through industry mentorships, guest speakers and meetings with captains of industries to promote a more project-based curriculum and curriculum relevancy.

Green technology education needs the integration of rigorous content from science, technology, engineering and mathematics which help in the context of designing solutions to real-world problems.

In the process, students are actively engaged in the application of science and mathematics through technological and engineering-design processes.

These strengthen the students’ understanding of data analysis, problem-solving skills and higher order critical thinking.

Education on green technology should preferably be a very “hands-on” experiential educational experience for students to comprehend the concepts and applications of green technology.

The mantra is striving towards innovative teaching and research excellence in active partnership with key industry players to involve students in areas such as energy conservation and safer agricultural farming methods.

To raise greater awareness on the importance of energy efficiency and to promote greater interest among youths, Schneider Electric introduced the “Go Green in the City” university challenge.

UTAR students, Team Eden were the 2013 winners.

Their winning proposal titled “Smart Building Solutions” showcased an integrated system that provides clean energy generation with intelligent monitoring and controlling of multiple innovative renewable energy sources in a building.

Such active participation and experience in working with Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy mangement, gave the students a better grasp of understanding energy efficient solutions and the importance of sustainability in this day and age.

Nestle, a global food company also in collaboration with UTAR, exemplifies the industry-academic connection which is mutually beneficial as there is joint research, sharing of resources and most of all, educating students through practical experiences and first-hand knowledge of the actual situation in an agricultural setting.

Under this collaboration, UTAR researchers are currently involved in a research project to investigate of the effectiveness of using phytoremediation, bioremediation and granular activiated carbon technologies in controlling chemical and metal concentrations in padi fields.

Phytoremediation refers to plants which are able to absorb, contain, degrade, or eliminate contaminants from the soil that contain them.

The related research area to this invesigative research is the effect of water saving practices in the production yield of padi and methane emission rate of the padi fields and the effects of bio-fertilisers on the yield of padi.

One GoodEarth, a local company in organic farming, donated beneficial mircrobia bacteria to be used as bio fertilisers to replace chemical fertilisers and to break down harmful heavy metals in padi fields and reduce methane gas emissions.

Such research studies can contribute to a better understanding of the quantified cost effectiveness in the comparison between bio-fertilisers and chemical fertilisers in the production yield of padi.

The research findings may help to ease the financial burden of the padi farmers’ community through less reliance on chemical fertilisers and to focus more on alternative natural resources which are less harmful to the environment.

The R&D contributes through promoting good agricultural practices in padi cultivation which ultimately translates into the improvement of padi farmers’ welfare and healthier rice yields.

Given the above examples, it is hoped that the future generation of consumers will be inspired and be aware of the urgency of energy and food sufficiency.

These highlighted studies can contribute to the sustainabilities of energy management and food production in all economic sectors and to strengthen the national development of Malaysia.

Green technology education integrated with projects and expertise from business and industry can serve as role models to excite more students about jobs in the STEM sectors.

Careers in STEM contribute to national innovation and are among the fastest-growing and highest-paying careers in the economy of the 21 century.

> The writer is Deputy Dean (Academic Development and Undergraduate Programme) and assistant professor, Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman.This article is fifth in a series of STEM for life-themed articles.

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