Engineering societies join forces to manage carbon emissions


Oct 14, 2009

For the past year, leaders of five societies representing more than one million engineers and other technical professionals have been meeting to identify steps the country might take toward managing carbon emissions, a key issue in climate change discussions, should that become public policy. The group has developed a Web site for collaboration ( and scorecards for benchmarking carbon management alternatives. The scorecards are part of an effort to assess the merits of different carbon management technologies, to identify barriers to technology deployment, and to address gaps and barriers to measuring and verifying carbon emissions.

The societies participating are the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers; the American Society of Civil Engineers; the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The scorecards developed so far focus on electric power and transportation systems, with expansion to other sectors planned. The scorecards employ an A, B, C, D and F grading system similar to one used in many schools. The electric power scorecard charts a variety of power sources, including coal (with and without carbon capture and sequestration), natural gas, petroleum, nuclear, renewables (solar, wind, biomass and tidal energy) by emission per kilowatt hour, emission per generated kilowatt and total greenhouse gas emissions per unit, among other attributes. The transportation scorecard rates vehicular, air, and rail transportation systems, using traditional and new fuel sources and technologies, by carbon emissions, miles traveled, availability, safety, impact on land and water use, and air quality issues.

The engineers see that controlling carbon emissions from energy generation requires a long-term perspective. Unfortunately, the energy challenge has tended to receive only short-term attention when fossil fuel prices are high or when there are disruptions or shortages in supplies. They believe that this lack of long-term commitment and focus is no longer acceptable.