A Perspective on Research and Teaching Pedagogy Based on Circular Economy and Sustainability

by Surojit Gupta | Oct 25, 2019

Ellen MacArthur became the fastest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe in 2005. She described part of her experience as, “Sailing around the world against the clock in 2004, I had with me the absolute minimum of resources in order to be as light, hence as fast, as possible.” This experience was instrumental in laying the foundation of circular economy (refer to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's website for a detailed timeline.)

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has outlined three key principles for Circular Economy, “(a) design out waste and pollution, (b) keep products and materials in use, and (c) regenerate natural systems." In other words, a Circular Economy model is based on the 3R principles of reducing, reusing, and recycling to build economic, natural, and social capital. Unlike a traditional linear model, this model is healing and sustainable as it strives towards the use of renewables, eliminating the link between consumption and economy, and phasing out waste.

Based on these principles, the First Global Commitment report was released in June 2019 for finding solutions to the global plastic waste and pollution problem. This report was compiled by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation with input from the United Nations Environment Programme, and consultation with different government signatories. The underlying paradigm of this global initiative is focused on, (a) eliminating the usage of irrelevant and dubious plastic items, (b) innovating newer technologies which will focus on reusable, recycle, or compostable composites, and (c) circulating plastic items. (More on the report

My research group is focused on innovative novel additive manufacturing and sustainable technologies which can be re-used and/or re-purposed (related papers are listed below). We have created novel innovative technologies for re-utilizing waste materials like polyester and that use lignin for developing novel materials by incorporating a student-centric research program. A critical challenge of any educational program is to integrate research with teaching pedagogy. In order to develop a holistic teaching program for training students in sustainability and Circular Economy, I am using a combination of research, entrepreneurship, team-oriented, and project based educational pedagogy. For example, National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has also created the Grand Challenge Scholar’s Program (GCSP). The vision of the program is, “continuation of life on the planet, making our world more sustainable, secure, healthy, and joyful.” As a part of this program, we are challenging undergraduate researchers to design sustainable solutions which can be incorporated into a Circular Economy model.

Surojit Gupta at NSF sponsored Circular Economy Conference For further nurturing and creating ideas on Circular Economy, sustainability, pedagogy, and research, it is important to develop a platform for exchanging ideas. Recently, I was invited to give a lecture titled, “Design Paradigm for Manufacturing Multifunctional Materials by Using Benign Biobased Precursors” in a National Science Foundation (NSF)- sponsored conference on “Nano-Micromaterials for Circular Economy and Sustainability” at the National University of Singapore (NUSS), from August 29 to September 1, 2019. This conference was jointly organized by University of Central Florida and NUSS. An important highlight of the conference was the panel discussion titled, “Circular Economy Opportunities & Gaps." Diverse topics included redesigning materials and products, waste to resources, education and training, R&D grand challenges, international standards development, sustainable finance, new businesses, health impact, and environmental management. The lecture series was also carefully planned by organizers, professors Sudipta Seal and Seeram Ramakrishna.

The discussion and lecture series were informative, frank, and helped me to understand critical challenges and best practices in this area. Some of the challenges are how to (a) involve masses in Circular Economy, (b) educate the young generation, more particularly, how to inculcate sustainability and green design in engineering curricula, and (c) accelerate the passage of innovative green manufacturing technologies in the commercial landscape. In addition, some of the best practices are: (a) promote healthy debate and discussions among all the stakeholders at various levels (students of different age groups, scientists, politicians, business interests etc.), (b) adopt a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, and (c) be adaptive and open about innovative technologies which can help us in achieving a “zero carbon society.”
It is also exciting to learn that this year’s Sigma Xi’s Annual Meeting and Student Research conference is centered on environmental changes, and its impact on societal, economic and political arenas. A workshop at the conference will focus on Circular Economy.

Photo Caption

Member Surojit Gupta presents a lecture at a National Science Foundation-sponsored Circular Economy conference. 

Related Reading

  • Beneficial usage of recycled polymer particulates for designing novel 3D printed composites” R. Dunnigan, J. Clemens, M. N. Cavalli, N. Kaabouch, S. Gupta, Progress in Additive Manufacturing Issue , 1-2/2018
  • “Synthesis and characterization of novel polymer matrix composites reinforced with MAX phases (Ti3SiC2, Ti3AlC2, and Cr2AlC) or MoAlB by fused deposition modeling Kathryn Hall, Maharshi Dey, Caleb Matzke, Surojit Gupta, Int J Ceramic Eng Sci, 00:1–11 (2019)
  • “Method of fabricating lignin based polymeric system”, US-2019-0255817-A1, Publication date 08/22/2019
  • “Synthesis and characterization of novel foams by pyrolysis of lignin”, S. Gupta, M. Dey, C. Matzke, G. Ellis, S. Javaid, K. Hall, Y. Ji, and S. Payne, TAPPI Journal January 2019.

Surojit Gupta is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of North Dakota. 

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