Environmental Quality Theme
Our research takes place in the niche area of the link between engineering, science and policy for environmental quality, and its impact to quality of life
The theme leader is Dr Nick Voulvoulis.
Although common belief is that excellence in interdisciplinary research comes with excellence in its components, in most cases this is not enough in itself to produce research outputs that are excellent or useful. Keeping in mind the complexity of environmental systems and their nature, which is also transdisciplinary, environmental quality research has beenfocusing on delivering excellence on the links between the disciplines, developing ways that interdisciplinary research can reach its full potential.
The need to manage environmental resources more sustainably drives the interdisciplinary nature of our research that delivers options for pollution control and strategies that value and protect ecosystem services. Through a systems approach to understanding problems, we focus on environmental challenges, especially where science and engineering interface with public policy. Topics include risk assessment, evaluation and design of environmental policies, pollution prevention and life-cycle analysis, and environmental trends and simulations. Our research proposes the need to reconsider our approach in applying solutions and utilising disciplines and tools to deliver them, with a renewed focus in restabilising what are the real problems from a systems perspective, at the same time demonstrating the change in mindsets required for delivering real benefits across sectors.
Our research focuses around three main areas:
- For water management the focus currently is on Closing the loop: and the need for systems in water management: Examples include:
- Globaqua an EU funded project (2014-2019) is exploring the potential of systems thinking in water policy through participating in the GLOBAQUA project. It is aiming to identify the prevalence of, and interaction between, stressors under water scarcity in order to improve knowledge of relationships between multiple stressors and to improve water management practices and policies.
- Anglian Water Shop Window, a real-world location (Newmarket area) where the company is driving innovation through collaboration across their business, supply chain and the entire man-made water cycle.
- Current projects in the environment and health theme include air pollution and water risks closely linked to research needs emerging from the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, with the objective of ground and surface water protection with significant changes on the way we dispose waste and manage resources. These include the integrated scientific study of contaminants in the aquatic environment, soils, sediments and air, and implications for risk assessment, management and policy. These areas of research are complemented by the development of skills in environmental modelling, sustainability analysis, life cycle assessment and economic evaluation. Current investigations are undertaken in order to assess and minimise health, environmental, climate change and business risks posed by mining operations, waste and wastewater management practices.
- For resources management, the current focus is on the Circular economy, Sustainable production and resource efficiency and Nature Based Solutions. Examples include
- Various research projects, such as Circular Revolution (2015) Waste Infrastructure needs (2014), and Imagine 2050 (2016), and activities that address their training and recruitment needs through our MSc course. Current projects include an energy storage concept in a systems thinking approach with the potential to contribute to a circular economy, looking to close the Loop in Resource Management and using nature based solutions within circular cities.
- Anglian Water Nature Based Solutions proposes to regenerate Wisbech (in Cambridgeshire) which aims to create a climate-change resilient town, increase transport links to the area, and double the number of properties, in line with the Government’s support to create Garden Towns in the UK.
- Another project we are currently working on with Veolia is looking to close the Loop in Resource Management. Resource recycling and reuse can help close the loop between supply and waste disposal, providing a sustainable alternative to mining of virgin stocks. Therefore, there is an opportunity for manufacturing and waste management businesses to develop relationships that can benefit both. This project is researching the way manufacturers can help waste collection and recovery through ways such as product design, as well as how waste management companies can deliver material security by returning materials back to the economy. It aims to address partnerships between manufacturing and waste sectors, and their ability to offer viable alternatives to the use of virgin materials which could deliver additional benefits to both the economy and the environment.