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MIT seeks formula for infrastructure sustainability

MIT seeks formula for
infrastructure sustainability

by KELSEY DAMRAD, MIT , Dept, of Civil & Environmental Engineering | May 18, 2015

In times of limited resources and continued evidence of significant climate change, sustainability is increasingly regarded as a topic of global importance. Consider areas such as design, energy, and materials. These core concepts associated with sustainability are part of an integrative spectrum of widespread innovation.

"Sustainability is a fashion nowadays," says Oral Buyukozturk, professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT. "But the concept is often used so loosely that many people are unsure of what it really means."

   Prof. Buyukozturk

   Prof. Buyukozturk

With a particular focus on mechanics, the durability of construction materials, and sound design, Buyukozturk has catalyzed several multidisciplinary ventures in CEE—all with the goal of advancing the science and engineering of quantifiably sustainable designs for infrastructure. 

He maintains that science and engineering are the entities that keep skyscrapers erect, materials resilient, and infrastructure intact.

"Physical and civil infrastructures inevitably deteriorate over time," Buyukozturk says. "Construction material deterioration is a global problem, and we are faced with two challenges: How do we rehabilitate and repair existing structures, and how do we build new systems that are more durable under today's conditions?"

His work in the sustainability of the built environment strives to provide solutions.

We are faced with two challenges: How do we rehabilitate and repair existing structures, and how do we build new systems that are more durable?
— Prof. Oral Buyukozturk, MIT CEE

Determined to clarify the concept of sustainability in engineering terms, Buyukozturk launched the Laboratory for Infrastructure Science and Sustainability (LISS) in 2011. Now home to a group of correlating initiatives, LISS aims to contribute to societal and economic development through detailing the sustainability of existing physical infrastructures and enhancing the design of new systems. LISS encompasses several interrelated initiatives including motion sensing and distributed wireless sensor networks, construction material innovation, infrastructure energy efficiency, as well as new design paradigms in earthquake engineering.

Among the research initiatives gathered under the LISS umbrella, one of the most ambitious is the Sustainability of Kuwait's Built Environment (SKBE). The mission, coined as the first Kuwait-MIT Signature Project, was announced on March 13, 2013.

Bringing together more than 30 MIT and Kuwaiti researchers, as well as an army of graduate students from every corner of MIT, this team endeavors to generate innovations in building materials, sensing, energy efficiency, resiliency, and urban planning.

Incorporating a myriad of fields, "the overall objective is the development of innovative solutions and methodologies for the sustainability of Kuwait's built environment in extreme conditions," says Buyukozturk, the lead principal investigator of SKBE. The final product will be a blueprint for the future of Kuwait's built environment.

"The project greatly contributes to the energy and life cycle efficiency of materials, buildings, and neighborhoods using a unique multiscale approach to urban planning. It will benefit Kuwait in its future city developments and improve energy utilization of existing buildings and towns with a perspective towards renewable energy concepts," says Ali Hajiah, research scientist at the Energy and Building Research Center of KISR, and co-principal investigator of the Signature Project.

"To my knowledge, this is a unique program of this scope, dealing with issues of this size," Buyukozturk says. "The challenge is getting everybody working together toward sustainability—not just talking about it, but creating solutions."

For more about this project and other LISS initiatives aimed at enhancing the energy efficiency and life-cycle performance of infrastructure, click here.

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