Young Engineer

By Mrs Smith

Congratulations to Ava Udwadia in Year 12!

Ava entered a national competition run by the Young Members Board of the Women’s Engineering Society. She submitted an essay into a category entitled ‘Engineering A Better World’ and came second.

Ava is an enthusiastic and talented Product Design student who is committed to pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering. I am sure she will make significant contributions to this industry in the years to come.

Engineering a better world – Ava M. Udwadia

The past 300 years has been an exciting time for engineers. From the first steam engine locomotive to the first supersonic flight, engineers have been at the forefront of advancing the world. However, these old inventions have caused some harm – coal power means that masses of CO2 is released into the atmosphere and the exploitation of fossil fuels to develop the world has left areas devastated and many species endangered. The aim of engineers today is to minimise environmental damage caused by humans. Some old technology has been adapted whilst others have revolutionised technology and improved it for the better. In this essay, I will be covering two topics which are important to me; Air Travel and Power Generation. 

When the Wright Brothers first lifted off in 1903, they could not fathom the change that they brought into the world. Air travel has evolved so much over the past 114 years that it is now seen as a normality rather than a luxury. It has enabled the world to metaphorically shrink and people to easily move from place to place, making the world more diverse. However, early forms of air transport required huge amounts of hydrocarbon based fuels, thus meaning low efficiency and lots of carbon emissions from piston and early jet engine exhausts. To battle this problem, large Transnational Companies (TNCs) such as Rolls Royce and General Electric have produced more efficient engines such as the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 (which powers the 787 Dreamliner) and the GEnx Engine (which powers the 747-8i and some 787s). These reduce carbon emissions from the airline industry, thus making it greener. In my opinion, these efforts are commendable but it still is not enough to ensure that our planet is not damaged. Other aircraft related engineering advancements in the recent years include the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus Neo series. The 787 has created a market for long haul travel using a twin engine aircraft rather than a four engine aircraft. They are also lightweight (by using carbon fibre and fibreglass), thus reducing the amount of fuel required to create lift. Engineers who worked on the fuselage design of the 787 streamlined it to the best of their ability by making the nose ‘droop’ and making the wings curve upwards to reduce the effects of drag and the aircrafts wake. These simple designs have made the 787 a ‘green design’ and a feat of engineering to help the environment whilst not making any negative changes to the way that people travel. 

Although air travel is one of the major contributors to increased carbon levels, power generation is an even greater problem. With nearly 8 billion people in the world, power is in high demand and it must be supplied in a sustainable way. Solar cells seem like the obvious choice because they take up little space, which is useful with our ever growing population. Solar cells are expensive and not viable for power generation on demand because we cannot control sunshine hours. Hydroelectric power is another option, but with an increasing water deficit, it is more humane to use this water for household consumption. Currently, the options for renewable energy are limited and unable to produce enough power to meet demand and TV-pickup. We need a fuel that doesn’t produce toxic waste products and that can meet high demand. Hydrogen power is an option as hydrogen can be produced via the electrolysis of water. In addition to this, the only product of the complete combustion of hydrogen is water, which can either be recycled and electrolysed again or used in households. 

Elon Musk (co-founder of eBay and Tesla) has suggested using tiles that are solar cells to produce household electricity. I believe that this is an inventive way of dealing with the problem of producing electricity sustainability. Although they are a relatively new concept, expensive and therefore well out of the reach of an average person, these tiles could be the future of roofing and be used by major companies looking to offset their carbon footprint. 

As somebody who is considering engineering as a career, I believe that sustainable design is the only way to go. We must look after the environment – there is a fine line between us and the environment and between using and abusing the earth.  When engineers design anything from the aircraft to the power stations of the future, sustainability will need to be taken into consideration. Designers and large companies have already started doing this – Unilever manufactures compressed deodorant cans to minimise the amount of materials used, thus reducing the amount of aluminium ore (Bauxite) being extracted. Coca-Cola buys back bottles from recycling centres and then re-melts the plastic to reduce the amount of crude oil being extracted. These aren’t strictly engineering feats, but engineers have either developed these ideas or learned from these companies and adopted some of this thinking in order to improve their designs. 

One of my ideas is to have hydrogen powered jet engines. As mentioned above, the complete combustion of hydrogen only produces water vapour, which is harmless. Although this is a good concept, hydrogen is extremely explosive – an incident that demonstrates this is the Hindenburg disaster of 1937. Hydrogen is also bulky and difficult to store as a gas, meaning that vast amounts of energy would be required to liquify and store it .

In conclusion, engineers must carefully consider the environment when designing. Everything has an impact on the environment. These impacts may seem small at first, but they must be minimised to avoid destroying the planet. From jet engines to wing design and sustainable energy resources, engineers must work together to create more ‘green designs’ and make them more accessible and affordable to the general public so that we can engineer a better world.