On a recent visit to the Tang Prize Foundation offices, the president of the Moscow-based International Academy of Engineering and the Russian Academy of Engineering spoke at length about COP21 and sustainability. Boris Vladimirovich Gusev says that at an important event like COP21, discussants can project their sustainability goals at least five years into the future. Sustainable development can be looked at from two angles, Gusev says, one is energy and ecology, the other is materials. Industry, farming, indeed any discipline, begins with materials. Thus tackling materials processing problems within the bounds of sustainable guidelines is something we ought to be thinking of for 2020 and the deeper future.
In physical terms, the world is composed of two elemental parts, energy and matter (material). We all see energy being used every day. Energy can be used efficiently, without unbalancing our ecosystem—or at the very least minimizing the imbalance. But the eco-problem is certainly connected to the rapidly rising temperatures of the earth. Thus energy, the counterpart of ecology, will be one of the central issues at the meeting in 2015.
The other basic element is material. Speaking from the sustainable development perspective, we ought to think about how we produce and use metals, concrete, plastics, rubber, and other secondary materials like recyclable metals, non-ferrous metals, and alkali earth metals. As 2020 approaches it is a problems that we all ought to consider, because we cannot live our lives without materials.
Gusev underlined the fact that we predominately use fossil fuels and natural gas as our energy sources, though in the future such sources will be abandoned. One way to offset or eliminate the use of fossil fuels is through catalysts. Another change will be in the reduction of waste from concrete. Certain techniques, for instance those which Russian scientists have developed, can reduce the amount of cement needed for concrete by nearly one half per each cubic meter. While one cubic meter of concrete generally uses about 350-370 kg of cement, only 220 kg is needed when applying the new technique. In order to meet the target of 1 billion tons less cement, one would have to bring the average amount of cement use to 200-220, which this technique does.
How we produce and use material is one of the many sustainability problems that faces humanity. Gusev hopes that discussion of the problem can prove to be useful across the board to sustainability, economy, industry, and humanity.