Sustainability conference inspires, informs

By By Arthur Raymond

By Arthur Raymond

U faculty members and students were among the featured speakers at this weekend’s first-annual Salt Lake City satellite hosting of the national Bioneers Conference.

The event, hosted by Westminster College, focused on sustainability issues and enhancing environmentally friendly practices through the stories, strategies and information provided by national and local speakers.

Kent Udell, chair of the U’s department of mechanical engineering, was one of the local presenters, focusing on the topic of sustainable engineering practices in Utah.

Udell explained the disruptor technology approach to energy, which looks for solutions to energy demands that don’t just modify current methods-they change the fundamental sources of our power needs. Utah has a unique set of climate and geographical characteristics that could support new technologies, he said.

Udell described one method called seasonal energy storage. The technique would utilize Utah’s seasonal temperature changes by tapping heat energy, stored naturally in the ground, to use for energy in the winter.

He said this method could work well in conjunction with solar energy collection. Utah’s natural environment lends itself to both methods because the summer has many sunny days that favor solar collection, and the winter has many cold days when the ground’s heat could be effectively used, Udell said.

Udell also outlined the possibility of creating an autonomous networked vehicle-a self-driving car system. This would require programming passenger vehicles so they can operate independently in certain areas, like freeways, that would allow high-speed travel. He said the system would speed up travel and use fuel more efficiently.

Udell said we currently have the technology to create this computer-controlled transportation network, but it would require a significant shift in the perceptions of the public about their cars.

Keith Bartholomew, an assistant professor in the U’s department of architecture, gave a presentation about transportation problems.

Bartholomew made note of a common misperception-building more roads does not limit traffic congestion. He cited multiple examples, illustrating that building more roads almost always has the end result of the same congestion occurring in more places.

A better approach, Bartholomew said, is to focus on accessibility to solve transportation challenges. Improving public transportation and making alternative methods-such as walking and biking-easier and more convenient will help solve transportation problems, he said.

Alexandra Parvaz, co-director of the U student group Sustainable Environments and Ecological Design, presented at the conference and attended all three days of the gathering. She said the presentations were inspirational and that the information and ideas that were shared would contribute to upcoming SEED projects.

Elzard Sikkema, a U senior in biology and environmental studies, said that some of the national speakers made great connections between the efforts toward sustainability and social justice, citing Van Jones, founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx.

Organizers estimate that more than 10,000 people participated in the conference at the 18 satellite venues and the main location in San Rafael, Calif., during the weekend.

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