Materials for Sustainable Development

Prof. Martin L. Green


    Every human endeavor should be informed by sustainable development, because none of our material resources are infinite and only a few sources of energy are sustainable. The most common definition of sustainable development comes from the 1987 Brundtland report, ˇ§Our Common Futureˇ¨, and states that ˇ§Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.ˇ¨ However, this is not a scientific definition, and essentially refers to economic development. Further, it requires that we know, or at least accurately estimate, what the needs of future generations will be. In this talk I will address the meaning and definition of sustainable development, and explore the space at its intersection with materials science. Materials have always served the role of technology enablers, and will continue to do so for sustainable development. The immediate and direct connections between sustainable development and materials science include efficient use of materials (conservation, substitution, reuse, repurposing, recycling), materials life cycle assessment, replacement materials (scarcity, resource availability, materials flow analysis and economics), energy (materials to support alternative energy technologies, to mitigate problems with fossil-fuel technologies, and to increase energy efficiency), mitigation of undesirable impacts on environment and human health from technology and economic growth (corrosion, pollution, toxic waste), and water purification. I will also highlight a few examples of materials for sustainable development in research programs at NIST and elsewhere, such as materials for carbon capture, thermoelectric devices, and standards for bio-derived products.

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