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Why Is Sustainable Technology Risk Management Research Important?
Sustainability requires environmental stewardship that provides the best outcomes for people and the natural environment, both now and into the future. Sustainable technology research provides technologies to balance the economic, societal, and environmental needs of today with the prospects for the same—or better—quality of life for tomorrow's generations. To support sustainability in a range of interrelated contexts, sustainable technology research focuses on seven key topics.
Biofuels: Biofuels are produced from renewable energy sources such as wastes or agricultural resources. When used in place of imported fossil fuels, biofuels can help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. EPA's sustainable technology researchers use tools from green chemistry and engineering, and from life cycle thinking to make biofuel production and its supply chain environmentally neutral, energy-efficient, and sustainable as possible.
Chemical Assessment Tools: EPA's chemicals assessment researchers develop tools for estimating the impact of chemicals and chemical processes on human health and the environment. Their estimates provide faster and less expensive alternatives to experimental measurements of toxicity and help chemical process designers reduce environmental and related human health impacts at the design stage.
Green Chemistry and Engineering: The chemical industry faces environmental and human health challenges that are common across business sectors. From the use of nonrenewable feedstocks to the cost and handling of waste disposal and workers' exposure to toxic substances, the industry must overcome complex hurdles to secure a more sustainable future. To help address these challenges, EPA's green chemistry and engineering researchers develop and demonstrate cleaner syntheses for commodity and specialty chemicals through means including improved catalysis, solvent-free or alternative reaction media, alternative energy sources, and the use of renewable raw materials.
Life Cycle Perspective: Life cycle perspective research considers the environmental and human health impacts of a product or process from its origins to its end. The use of a holistic life cycle perspective helps manufacturers and policy makers identify possible improvements across industrial systems and through all of a product's or process's life cycle stages. The perspective can lead to sustainable solutions that improve environmental, societal, and economic benefits. EPA's life cycle perspective researchers examine a variety of cases, including nanotechnology, biofuels, and sustainable materials management.
Nanotechnology: In order to prevent waste and help develop more sustainable manufacturing systems for nanomaterials and nanoproducts, EPA's sustainable technology researchers use green chemistry principles and life cycle perspectives. Their work has also led to green remediation technologies.
Sustainable Watershed Management: Sustainable watershed management research approaches ecosystem restoration and management in a way that provides an alternative to regulatory oversight and that integrates social as well as scientific priorities in order to formulate policy. Researchers use adaptive management and green infrastructure as well as hydrologic, economic, ecological, and soil studies to help urban and rural communities sustainably manage their resources.
Sustainability Metrics Development: Environmental managers need systematic ways to evaluate efforts to attain and maintain sustainable systems. Through sustainability metrics, EPA's sustainable technology researchers develop robust and common-sense methodologies that help managers tackle environmental issues while preserving economic prosperity and social well-being over the long term.
How Does EPA Conduct Sustainable Technology Risk Management Research?
From small-scale laboratory research to demonstration on the industrial plant scale, from developing decision-support tools to conducting field studies, sustainable technology risk management research combines in-house work, extramural activities, and partnerships with industry, academia, international groups, and federal, state, and local agencies. The research staff includes chemists, chemical engineers, environmental engineers, ecologists, economists, hydrologists, mechanical engineers, and physical scientists, some of whom have additional training in law and social science.
What Is the Impact of Sustainable Technology Risk Management Research?
EPA's sustainable technology researchers are helping communities as well as partners in industry, academia, and international organizations to sustainably manage resources using innovative technologies and decision support tools.
- Biofuels: Through a cooperative research and development agreement, sustainable technology biofuels researchers and membrane producer Membrane Technology and Research, Inc. are working with several potential end-users to adapt membrane-assisted vapor stripping technology to their biofuel production processes. The technology is so efficient and easy to employ that it has the potential to make small-scale biofuels operations more cost effective.
- Green chemistry and engineering: Researchers and their industrial partners developed new reaction strategies using the Spinning Tube-in-Tube (STT) reactor. The reactor (which uses increased mixing to replace toxic solvents) and its application have been licensed by two companies that plan to build commercial-scale operations to produce their consumer products.
- Nanotechnology: Preventing pollution using green chemistry principles, sustainable technology nanotechnology researchers created magnetic nanomaterial-based catalysts that can be separated using a simple magnetic field and then re-used. To produce the nanoparticles, the researchers used benign metallic salts, water, and polyphenols from plant materials such as grape husks left after winemaking operations. Working with the firm VeruTEK, EPA researchers played an important role in developing and commercializing green remediation technologies using these nanoparticles as catalysts. VeruTEK has used the technology for the degradation of pollutants in water.
- Sustainable Watershed Management: To communities facing inadequate wastewater infrastructure, EPA's researchers bring a variety of tools that support green infrastructure. For example, a transdisciplinary group of EPA researchers worked closely with partners throughout the EPA to develop a technically defensible proposal that gives comfort to local, state, and federal parties and enables sharing risk among these parties to help develop and implement realistic consent orders. Their work on greening the consent decree process involves case studies in Cincinnati and Cleveland, and includes guidelines for collecting evidence of improvement in social, economic, and environmental co-benefits.
- Chemical Assessment Tool: A decision-support tool for chemical assessment, the Toxicity Estimation Software Tool (TEST) has been downloaded over 4,000 times worldwide by users in government, academia, and industry. The application allows scientists to quickly estimate toxicity values for chemicals with no known toxicity data, allowing chemists to make informed choices to decrease the potential environmental and human harm associated with the chemicals.
Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
- Mine Waste Technology: The projects undertaken by this Program focus on developing and demonstrating innovative technologies at both the bench- and pilot-scale that treat mine wastes to reduce their volume, mobility, or toxicity. Health effects from the predominate contaminants in mine waste range from mild irritants to proven human carcinogens, such as cadmium and arsenic. The large volume of mine wastes and consequential adverse environmental and human health effects led to cleanup of abandoned, inactive, and active mining facilities.
Sheryl Mebane, Technology Transfer Specialist
U.S. EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Andrew W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center
Sustainable Technology Division
26 West Martin Luther King Drive
Mail Code: MS 497
Cincinnati, OH 45268