Geoffrey Alves | Bachelor’s Degree Environmental Engineering | Class of 2017
What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, sustainability is something that is much more easily talked about than actually implemented. While at UC San Diego, I took several classes on environmental challenges, climate policy, and climate science. In all of these classes, it became obvious that climate change was rooted in anthropogenic desires to progress in the world, and that sustainability has become a hot topic in response to climate change. Since the industrial revolution, we have used fossil fuels to feed a consumerist culture and now we are seeing the negative impacts of these actions in the form of global warming, pollution, rising ocean levels, droughts, species extinction, and more. While I’m sure there have been plenty of sustainably minded people in the past, I believe sustainability is more important now than it has ever been before. In a sense, sustainability is reactive to fixing the problems of climate change, but I believe it should also be seen as proactive in preventing further damage to Earth.
I know I am not a perfect model citizen of sustainability, but I did decide to pursue an environmental engineering degree in the hopes that I could someday make a positive impact in a sustainability-oriented career. I believe clean energy (especially at an industrial level) is at the center of changing the course of Earth’s climate, and I hope that my background in environmental engineering will allow to me to be a part of the clean energy movement. Sustainability is also highly societal in nature because it requires an open mind and willingness to consume less and recycle more. It is easy to predict how sustainability can change the course of Earth’s climate, but much harder to convince people to change their mindsets and lifestyles in order for these predictions to come true. However, college organizations like the Sustainability Office and Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), as well as increasing climate politics and an emerging green energy sector give me confidence that we can come together collectively to create a more sustainable future that could rebalance Earth’s climate.
Could you talk about your involvement with ESW while at UC San Diego? What project(s) did you work on?
I was a member of Engineers for a Sustainable World for three years while attending UC San Diego. In Fall Quarter of my second year, I joined a brand new project, “Bottles to Models” (B2M for short), and I eventually became project co-leader for one year. The goal for B2M was to reduce campus waste by investigating the usefulness of reusing plastics, such as milk jugs used in coffee shops, as material for 3D printing. In the first year of the project, we spent a lot of time researching the feasibility of using milk jugs and the process for converting it into filament. The process included shredding down the plastic, feeding it into a heated filament extruder, and testing the recycled filament in our own 3D printer. While we were discussing our project with some of the 3D printing studios on campus, we discovered that they have bins of scrapped 3D prints that they didn’t have a use for. In my last meeting as project co-leader, we successfully shredded and extruded the scraps into new filament. Although we were never able to get to the milk jugs during my tenure, the project is ongoing with two new leaders and I am excited to see where it goes. We also created a long-term goal to start supplying our filament back to the 3D printing studios, and to reach out to local schools in order to promote STEM and sustainability.
ESW also provided great volunteering opportunities in sustainability. I was able to participate in a beach cleanup and Solarthon with Grid Alternatives. I think joining ESW was one of the best decisions I made in college because of the project experience, volunteering, but most importantly the people I met. I saw the organization grow every year in the number of projects and members, and it was very inspirational to see how passionate people could be for sustainability. As a national organization, ESW is truly fostering the future engineers that will lead the way in creating long-term sustainability solutions.
You work at Solar Turbines, a company committed to manufacturing reliable, efficient, low-emitting turbines. Could you talk about your work (or other projects at Solar Turbines) and how you see that fitting in with a sustainable future?
I will start off by stating that Solar Turbines (Solar) is an oil and gas company that does support the oil and gas industry, among others. However, here is my take on why we can lead the way in sustainability. First, our turbines run on natural gas, which burns much cleaner than coal, and we have SoLoNOx™ technology for even lower pollutant emissions. Currently, our turbines are necessary to fill in the gaps when renewable energy cannot meet power needs. Through emission monitoring, we are constantly researching and designing new technology to more efficiently burn natural gas. In my role as a hydromechanical design engineer, I will be a part of designing these fuel systems on customer turbine packages. Second, Solar has developed several technologies for sustainable power generation. Our combined heat and power packages reclaim exhaust heat from natural gas combustion to be used in applications, such as boilers, instead of using more fuel to boil water. We also have turbines that run on reclaimed methane-rich gas coming from landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Lastly, what I am most excited about and hope to contribute to is Solar’s energy storage. Essentially, we are already very good at creating frames and enclosures to house our turbines, so we decided to design a new package to fill with batteries. At up to a megawatt in energy storage, these packages can be deployed anywhere to support renewable energy sources. Due to the intermittency of renewables, energy storage will be critical to hold excess generated power for use during times when no power can be generated. Solar Turbines is an international industry leader in power generation, and with the backing of Caterpillar (American Fortune 100, Global Fortune 500), I believe we can have great influence in the future of sustainable power.