Sophomore Seminars

Chemical Engineering for Sustainability


Do you want to make the world more sustainable? How will we address the tremendous challenges that climate change brings? How can we reduce carbon emissions and not have huge disruptions in society? We will learn how to make the world more sustainable by exploring the exciting new world of (chemical) engineering sustainability. This class is for anyone who wants to better understand how to create sustainable alternatives to what we use every day. We will discuss renewable fuels (renewable diesel and jet fuel); synthetic meat; compostable plastics; building materials that save energy; direct capture of carbon from the air; biological and renewable petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals; and advanced recycling operations. The class starts with a brief overview of the deep cuts in carbon emissions and other pollutants that will be needed. Once we characterize the problem, we will focus on how sustainable (chemical) engineering can provide a solution. Students will leave the class with an appreciation of how sustainable (chemical) engineering can help address climate change’s substantial challenges; we hope that some will be inspired to pursue further work in this area to help society evolve towards a low carbon society.

Students will be assessed via five problem sets, a short solo presentation, and a team presentation and paper. The course will include visits to companies engaged in sustainable (chemical) engineering solutions, some of whom have said that they are seeking summer interns. We hope to balance the project teams by including everyone: engineers, scientists, those in humanities and the arts. Everyone has a role to play in designing our future.

High school chemistry (balancing a chemical equation) and high school physics (unit conversions) are recommended for this course.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Shari Libicki

Shari Libicki

"I received my Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford. My interest in using science to address global issues was sparked when I served as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow for the U.S. State Department, negotiating international science treaties in both Japan and (what was then) the USSR. One of the treaties that I worked on was signed by President Reagan; I handed him the treaty for his signature at an international signing ceremony (see it on YouTube! During my tenure with the State Department, the Montreal Protocol, the first successful use of international cooperation to solve a global environmental issue, was signed. Since then, I have worked at Ramboll, an international consulting firm focusing on sustainable solutions. I have worked with a Direct Air Capture to Fuels startup to evaluate the technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air to make jet fuels. I also work on low-carbon developments, renewable diesel projects, and life-cycle assessments, among other things. I am passionate about helping a broad audience understand engineering solutions to our planet’s existential problems, and how to help scientists understand how to impact public policy to implement those solutions. I received my Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford."