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Discover the latest Environmental Sciences Research

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Our portfolio of environmental sciences journals continue to push the boundaries of research and research communication. Discover the latest papers making waves in your community, explore further insight into the contributions of PLOS journals to the field, and find out how to keep in the loop with what’s to come in 2024.

Most talked about in 2024 *

Sea otter recovery buffers century-scale declines in California kelp forests , PLOS Climate

Dynamic modeling of African elephant populations under changing climate and habitat loss across the Greater Virunga Landscape , PLOS Sustainability and Transformation

An invisible water surcharge: Climate warming increases crop water demand in the San Joaquin Valley’s groundwater-dependent irrigated agriculture , PLOS Water

A panel data study on the effect of climate change on life expectancy , PLOS Climate

Contemporary and relic waters strongly decoupled in arid alpine environments , P LOS Water

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PLOS publishes a broad range of environmental sciences research, spanning journals, disciplines, and regions. Discover more research and insights in our curated research selections and other articles from around PLOS.

Discover essential research from across our entire journals portfolio on topics of increasing importance: 

Precision agriculture 

Food security

Clean water and sanitation

Sustainable cities and communities

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2023 article highlights , selected by PLOS Climate section editors

Health and climate change in the spotlight

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*data sourced from Altmetric, January 2024 – May 2024

by Mason Majszak and Julie Jebeile, University of Bern, Switzerland As a climate scientist, you are occasionally asked to give expert judgments…

by Anpotowin Jensen, Oglala Lakota Nation Embarking on the journey to the UN Environment Assembly Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, I felt a…

In this blog post, we catch up with Matt Ball, whom we previously interviewed as an undergraduate Geography student at Durham University…

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Research Topics & Ideas: Environment

100+ Environmental Science Research Topics & Ideas

Research topics and ideas within the environmental sciences

Finding and choosing a strong research topic is the critical first step when it comes to crafting a high-quality dissertation, thesis or research project. Here, we’ll explore a variety research ideas and topic thought-starters related to various environmental science disciplines, including ecology, oceanography, hydrology, geology, soil science, environmental chemistry, environmental economics, and environmental ethics.

NB – This is just the start…

The topic ideation and evaluation process has multiple steps . In this post, we’ll kickstart the process by sharing some research topic ideas within the environmental sciences. This is the starting point though. To develop a well-defined research topic, you’ll need to identify a clear and convincing research gap , along with a well-justified plan of action to fill that gap.

If you’re new to the oftentimes perplexing world of research, or if this is your first time undertaking a formal academic research project, be sure to check out our free dissertation mini-course. Also be sure to also sign up for our free webinar that explores how to develop a high-quality research topic from scratch.

Overview: Environmental Topics

  • Ecology /ecological science
  • Atmospheric science
  • Oceanography
  • Soil science
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Environmental economics
  • Environmental ethics
  • Examples  of dissertations and theses

Topics & Ideas: Ecological Science

  • The impact of land-use change on species diversity and ecosystem functioning in agricultural landscapes
  • The role of disturbances such as fire and drought in shaping arid ecosystems
  • The impact of climate change on the distribution of migratory marine species
  • Investigating the role of mutualistic plant-insect relationships in maintaining ecosystem stability
  • The effects of invasive plant species on ecosystem structure and function
  • The impact of habitat fragmentation caused by road construction on species diversity and population dynamics in the tropics
  • The role of ecosystem services in urban areas and their economic value to a developing nation
  • The effectiveness of different grassland restoration techniques in degraded ecosystems
  • The impact of land-use change through agriculture and urbanisation on soil microbial communities in a temperate environment
  • The role of microbial diversity in ecosystem health and nutrient cycling in an African savannah

Topics & Ideas: Atmospheric Science

  • The impact of climate change on atmospheric circulation patterns above tropical rainforests
  • The role of atmospheric aerosols in cloud formation and precipitation above cities with high pollution levels
  • The impact of agricultural land-use change on global atmospheric composition
  • Investigating the role of atmospheric convection in severe weather events in the tropics
  • The impact of urbanisation on regional and global atmospheric ozone levels
  • The impact of sea surface temperature on atmospheric circulation and tropical cyclones
  • The impact of solar flares on the Earth’s atmospheric composition
  • The impact of climate change on atmospheric turbulence and air transportation safety
  • The impact of stratospheric ozone depletion on atmospheric circulation and climate change
  • The role of atmospheric rivers in global water supply and sea-ice formation

Research topic evaluator

Topics & Ideas: Oceanography

  • The impact of ocean acidification on kelp forests and biogeochemical cycles
  • The role of ocean currents in distributing heat and regulating desert rain
  • The impact of carbon monoxide pollution on ocean chemistry and biogeochemical cycles
  • Investigating the role of ocean mixing in regulating coastal climates
  • The impact of sea level rise on the resource availability of low-income coastal communities
  • The impact of ocean warming on the distribution and migration patterns of marine mammals
  • The impact of ocean deoxygenation on biogeochemical cycles in the arctic
  • The role of ocean-atmosphere interactions in regulating rainfall in arid regions
  • The impact of ocean eddies on global ocean circulation and plankton distribution
  • The role of ocean-ice interactions in regulating the Earth’s climate and sea level

Research topic idea mega list

Tops & Ideas: Hydrology

  • The impact of agricultural land-use change on water resources and hydrologic cycles in temperate regions
  • The impact of agricultural groundwater availability on irrigation practices in the global south
  • The impact of rising sea-surface temperatures on global precipitation patterns and water availability
  • Investigating the role of wetlands in regulating water resources for riparian forests
  • The impact of tropical ranches on river and stream ecosystems and water quality
  • The impact of urbanisation on regional and local hydrologic cycles and water resources for agriculture
  • The role of snow cover and mountain hydrology in regulating regional agricultural water resources
  • The impact of drought on food security in arid and semi-arid regions
  • The role of groundwater recharge in sustaining water resources in arid and semi-arid environments
  • The impact of sea level rise on coastal hydrology and the quality of water resources

Research Topic Kickstarter - Need Help Finding A Research Topic?

Topics & Ideas: Geology

  • The impact of tectonic activity on the East African rift valley
  • The role of mineral deposits in shaping ancient human societies
  • The impact of sea-level rise on coastal geomorphology and shoreline evolution
  • Investigating the role of erosion in shaping the landscape and impacting desertification
  • The impact of mining on soil stability and landslide potential
  • The impact of volcanic activity on incoming solar radiation and climate
  • The role of geothermal energy in decarbonising the energy mix of megacities
  • The impact of Earth’s magnetic field on geological processes and solar wind
  • The impact of plate tectonics on the evolution of mammals
  • The role of the distribution of mineral resources in shaping human societies and economies, with emphasis on sustainability

Topics & Ideas: Soil Science

  • The impact of dam building on soil quality and fertility
  • The role of soil organic matter in regulating nutrient cycles in agricultural land
  • The impact of climate change on soil erosion and soil organic carbon storage in peatlands
  • Investigating the role of above-below-ground interactions in nutrient cycling and soil health
  • The impact of deforestation on soil degradation and soil fertility
  • The role of soil texture and structure in regulating water and nutrient availability in boreal forests
  • The impact of sustainable land management practices on soil health and soil organic matter
  • The impact of wetland modification on soil structure and function
  • The role of soil-atmosphere exchange and carbon sequestration in regulating regional and global climate
  • The impact of salinization on soil health and crop productivity in coastal communities

Topics & Ideas: Environmental Chemistry

  • The impact of cobalt mining on water quality and the fate of contaminants in the environment
  • The role of atmospheric chemistry in shaping air quality and climate change
  • The impact of soil chemistry on nutrient availability and plant growth in wheat monoculture
  • Investigating the fate and transport of heavy metal contaminants in the environment
  • The impact of climate change on biochemical cycling in tropical rainforests
  • The impact of various types of land-use change on biochemical cycling
  • The role of soil microbes in mediating contaminant degradation in the environment
  • The impact of chemical and oil spills on freshwater and soil chemistry
  • The role of atmospheric nitrogen deposition in shaping water and soil chemistry
  • The impact of over-irrigation on the cycling and fate of persistent organic pollutants in the environment

Topics & Ideas: Environmental Economics

  • The impact of climate change on the economies of developing nations
  • The role of market-based mechanisms in promoting sustainable use of forest resources
  • The impact of environmental regulations on economic growth and competitiveness
  • Investigating the economic benefits and costs of ecosystem services for African countries
  • The impact of renewable energy policies on regional and global energy markets
  • The role of water markets in promoting sustainable water use in southern Africa
  • The impact of land-use change in rural areas on regional and global economies
  • The impact of environmental disasters on local and national economies
  • The role of green technologies and innovation in shaping the zero-carbon transition and the knock-on effects for local economies
  • The impact of environmental and natural resource policies on income distribution and poverty of rural communities

Topics & Ideas: Environmental Ethics

  • The ethical foundations of environmentalism and the environmental movement regarding renewable energy
  • The role of values and ethics in shaping environmental policy and decision-making in the mining industry
  • The impact of cultural and religious beliefs on environmental attitudes and behaviours in first world countries
  • Investigating the ethics of biodiversity conservation and the protection of endangered species in palm oil plantations
  • The ethical implications of sea-level rise for future generations and vulnerable coastal populations
  • The role of ethical considerations in shaping sustainable use of natural forest resources
  • The impact of environmental justice on marginalized communities and environmental policies in Asia
  • The ethical implications of environmental risks and decision-making under uncertainty
  • The role of ethics in shaping the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable future for the construction industry
  • The impact of environmental values on consumer behaviour and the marketplace: a case study of the ‘bring your own shopping bag’ policy

Examples: Real Dissertation & Thesis Topics

While the ideas we’ve presented above are a decent starting point for finding a research topic, they are fairly generic and non-specific. So, it helps to look at actual dissertations and theses to see how this all comes together.

Below, we’ve included a selection of research projects from various environmental science-related degree programs to help refine your thinking. These are actual dissertations and theses, written as part of Master’s and PhD-level programs, so they can provide some useful insight as to what a research topic looks like in practice.

  • The physiology of microorganisms in enhanced biological phosphorous removal (Saunders, 2014)
  • The influence of the coastal front on heavy rainfall events along the east coast (Henson, 2019)
  • Forage production and diversification for climate-smart tropical and temperate silvopastures (Dibala, 2019)
  • Advancing spectral induced polarization for near surface geophysical characterization (Wang, 2021)
  • Assessment of Chromophoric Dissolved Organic Matter and Thamnocephalus platyurus as Tools to Monitor Cyanobacterial Bloom Development and Toxicity (Hipsher, 2019)
  • Evaluating the Removal of Microcystin Variants with Powdered Activated Carbon (Juang, 2020)
  • The effect of hydrological restoration on nutrient concentrations, macroinvertebrate communities, and amphibian populations in Lake Erie coastal wetlands (Berg, 2019)
  • Utilizing hydrologic soil grouping to estimate corn nitrogen rate recommendations (Bean, 2019)
  • Fungal Function in House Dust and Dust from the International Space Station (Bope, 2021)
  • Assessing Vulnerability and the Potential for Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in Sudan’s Blue Nile Basin (Mohamed, 2022)
  • A Microbial Water Quality Analysis of the Recreational Zones in the Los Angeles River of Elysian Valley, CA (Nguyen, 2019)
  • Dry Season Water Quality Study on Three Recreational Sites in the San Gabriel Mountains (Vallejo, 2019)
  • Wastewater Treatment Plan for Unix Packaging Adjustment of the Potential Hydrogen (PH) Evaluation of Enzymatic Activity After the Addition of Cycle Disgestase Enzyme (Miessi, 2020)
  • Laying the Genetic Foundation for the Conservation of Longhorn Fairy Shrimp (Kyle, 2021).

Looking at these titles, you can probably pick up that the research topics here are quite specific and narrowly-focused , compared to the generic ones presented earlier. To create a top-notch research topic, you will need to be precise and target a specific context with specific variables of interest . In other words, you’ll need to identify a clear, well-justified research gap.

Need more help?

If you’re still feeling a bit unsure about how to find a research topic for your environmental science dissertation or research project, be sure to check out our private coaching services below, as well as our Research Topic Kickstarter .

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List of Research Topics in Environmental Engineering

Dr. Sowndarya Somasundaram

Environmental Engineering is a discipline of engineering that deals with the prevention & control of water, air, and soil pollution. In this article list of Research Topics in Environmental Engineering is listed.

The active research areas in the field of environmental engineering are water and wastewater treatment and disposal; environmental chemistry; environmental microbiology; environmental impact assessment; membrane technology; advanced oxidation process; catalysis; air pollution, prevention, and control; solid and hazardous waste management.

Water and wastewater treatment and reuse

  • Performance evaluation of improved biological treatment technologies for the treatment of sewage followed by UV disinfection for reuse
  • A study of co-treatment of fecal sludge and sewage in the sewage treatment plant
  • Performance evaluation of treatment and reuse of greywater by wetland system
  • A comprehensive study on polluted river stretches on the Ganga River in India
  • Development of treatment process for water treatment using ceramic membrane filtration to produce potable water
  • Performance evaluation of microbial fuel cells for the treatment of industrial wastewaters
  • Disinfection of secondary treated sewage using a novel UVC-LED reactor system for reuse
  • A study on emerging contaminants in Indian waters and their treatment technologies
  • Performance evaluation of improved anaerobic baffle filter reactor in treating domestic wastewater
  • A study on the impact of perfluorinated compounds on human health

Advanced oxidation technologies

  • A study on secondary treated domestic wastewater using an advanced oxidation process
  • Development of novel photocatalytic reactors for treatment of industrial wastewaters
  • Treatment of textile wastewater by using zero-valent iron nanoparticles
  • Development of photocatalytic reactors for hydrogen production by water splitting technique
  • Treatment of industrial wastewater by wet air oxidation processes
  • Development of a novel photocatalytic reactor system for degradation of persistent organic pollutants from pharmaceutical wastewater
  • Decolourization of textile dye wastewaters using ozone-based technologies
  • Degradation of industrial wastewaters using TiO 2 -based nanocomposites
  • Development of photocatalytic membrane reactor for the treatment of industrial and domestic wastewaters
  • Photocatalytic hydrogen production from sulfide wastewater using nanocomposites
  • Development of photocatalytic reactor for removal of endocrine-disrupting compounds from water and wastewaters
  • Photocatalytic degradation of SO x and NO x using nanocomposites

Air pollution and control

  • A study on endocrine-disrupting compounds in the atmosphere – effects on human and wildlife
  • A study on vehicular movements in India – Effect of CO on human and wildlife
  • A study on vertical profiling of air pollution in urban and metro cities
  • Performance evaluation of alternative fuel technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in industries
  • Design, development, and performance evaluation of slotted slack-petal pot chimney over a conventional chimney
  • Effect of fine particulate matter and NOx on human and wildlife
  • A study on the reuse of air conditioner condensate
  • A study on sulfur reduction in coal-based thermal power plants

Soil pollution and remediation

  • Degradation of persistent organic pollutants from contaminated soil using photocatalytic processes
  • Treatment of textile wastewater contaminated soil by using iron nanoparticles
  • Removal of petroleum hydrocarbon compounds from contaminated soil using natural-based products
  • Leachability and physical stability of solidified and stabilized sludge from textile effluent
  • Assessment of heavy metal toxicity in soil and their remedial measures
  • Alkali pre-treatment for bio mechanization of solid waste

Solid and hazardous waste treatment and disposal

  • Converting inert wastes into bio-amendments / bio-fertilizers – pilot projects at legacy waste dumping sites in India
  • Hydrothermal carbonization of crude oil sludge for recovery of solid fuel
  • Encapsulation and solidification of salt-based evaporation residues
  • Use of textile and tannery sludge as fine aggregates in concrete mix
  • Development of novel methods for the treatment of E-waste
  • A study on the treatment of nuclear waste

CO 2 sequestration, separation, and utilization

  • CO 2 gas separation from fuel and flue gas using composite membranes
  • Recovery of useful products from industrial flue gases
  • Development of novel composite membranes for separation of CO 2 from flue gas
  • Carbonation of coal fly ash for CO 2 sequestration
  • Conversion of CO 2 to useful products by novel methods
  • Performance evaluation of biomedical waste facility in India


  • Occurrence, fate, and risk-based remediation of antibiotics in agricultural environments
  • Bio-degradation of persistent organic compounds using bacterial species  
  • Bioremediation of oily sludge
  • Biochar and compost-based bioremediation of crude oil contaminated soil

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Research Topics in Environmental Engineering

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Greetings and Regards My name is Reza Fadaei, I am 49 years old. I have been in Iran’s Environmental Organization for 22 years as an expert in the natural environment departments, laboratory offices, water and soil pollution control office, and waste management. I am working as the manager of the provincial general administration. PhD student in environmental sciences and engineering, Islamic Azad University, Tabriz branch, Iran. I participated in a waste management training workshop with professors from Japanese universities and the Japanese Ministry of Energy and Environment. I am very interested in the rich and ancient culture of Japan. I would very much like to continue my doctoral studies in Japan and the subject of my doctoral dissertation. to do in your country. I hope you help.

I wanted to choose the topic of my PhD thesis in the field of environmental engineering with topics related to water or wastewater. My bachelor’s and master’s degrees were applied chemistry and the subject of my master’s thesis (the effect of magnetic nanoparticles on the removal of chromium from leather industry wastewater). Please guide me and if you have a chance, help me as a second guide or consultant. I would like to have a free study opportunity in your university if possible. I am also Azeri and I expect you to help me to present a high level thesis thanks again

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Environmental Engineering research area is concerned with issues that involve water quality, wastewater and treatment, transport and fate of contaminants in natural and engineered environments, hazardous and solid waste management, hydrology, and environmental fluid dynamics.

Research Highlight 

Detecting, tracing, and characterizing antimicrobial resistance in wastewater and surface waters.

Bacterial resistance to antimicrobials and antibiotics is one of the most pressing public-health concerns around the world. Water systems are one of the major contributors to the spread of resistance, as improperly treated drinking water and wastewater can concentrate antibiotic and antimicrobial compounds while also carrying pathogens to and from human hosts. In the United States, the widespread use of antimicrobial products including soaps, toothpastes, and surfaces as well as the extensive application of antibiotic drugs results in large quantities of these compounds in wastewater treatment systems and aquatic systems. The diverse bacterial communities in wastewater that interact with these compounds in wastewater treatment plants often exhibit resistance to multiple clinically-important antibiotics. Detecting these organisms can be challenging, but it is imperative to understand the ability of resistance to change and disseminate in wastewater and in surface waters. In this ongoing research project, samples collected from local wastewater treatment plants and the Chesapeake Bay are being probed for resistance genes and to identify mechanisms of cross-resistance to both antimicrobial and antibiotic compounds. Using trichlosan as a model antimicrobial compound, we are determining if antimicrobial resistance gives rise to antibiotic resistance and vice versa in surface waters.

This project was a collaborative effort at Johns Hopkins University: Edward Bouwer, PhD, and Meghan Davis, PhD, in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, Charles Young, PhD, from the Applied Physics Laboratory; and Hannah Gray, PhD student.

Associated Faculty

The goal of my research is to better understand the relationship between workplace exposures, worker characteristics, and musculoskeletal disorders so that these debilitating and expensive conditions can be prevented.

More Information

Dr. Barnett's research interests include best practice models to enhance all-hazards public health emergency readiness and response. 

Joe's laboratory has been studying transporters and their interaction with environmental toxins. 

As an environmental and pediatric/perinatal epidemiologist, Jessie's goal is to conduct innovative and high impact research to inform environmental policies targeted at improving children’s health. 

As a molecular epidemiologist and an environmental microbiologist, Meghan studies the interface of bacteria and hosts to reduce microbe-mediated disease in humans and animals. 

Peter DeCarlo, PhD, studies the chemical composition of gas particles in the air to improve our understanding of climate, air quality, and health impacts of pollutants.

Dr. Heaney's research focuses on environmentally-mediated impacts on health and well-being, specifically community land use, waste disposal, and food production practices, and integrates the academic disciplines of environmental microbiology, molecular biology, immunology, epidemiology, and community-based participatory research (CBPR).

Koehler's research goals involve the use of direct-reading instrumentation to improve spatiotemporal exposure assessment. Direct-reading (i.e. “real-time”) monitors can rapidly assess exposures to various hazards.

Jordan is part of the  Buckley Research Group  as a postdoctoral fellow, where he is involved in several projects related to early life chemical exposures and childhood health. 

Keeve's research aims to generate the scientific evidence needed to support decisions that mitigate human exposures to chemical and microbial hazards associated with food production. 

Ramachandran has conducted research in various areas relating to human exposure assessment in occupational and non-occupational settings. His research has included the development of robust occupational exposure assessment strategies for a variety of airborne contaminants. He has pioneered the use of novel Bayesian statistical methods that synthesize exposure models, monitoring data, and probabilistic expert judgment.

Lesliam's research focuses on characterizing environmental exposures to endocrine disrupting agents and examining their potential health effects on highly vulnerable, low-income and minority populations underrepresented and understudied in public health research, including occupational populations, pregnant women and women of reproductive age, and children. 

Schwab’s research focuses on environmental microbiology and engineering with an emphasis on the fate and transport of pathogenic microorganisms in water, food and the environment. This work includes extensive laboratory-based research designed to develop and evaluate molecular detection methods with subsequent application of these methods in field-based investigations. 

The focus of Fenna's research group is to understand the effects of environmental exposures on the development and function of our immune system.

As an epidemiologist, Genee's research focuses on understanding the disproportionate burden of a changing climate on vulnerable populations and the impacts of neighborhood-level environmental exposures, including degraded infrastructure, unfair development, and chemical pollutants, on health disparities.

*Denotes faculty who are accepting PhD students. 

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Environmental Engineering Dissertation Topics

Published by Alvin Nicolas at January 6th, 2023 , Revised On August 11, 2023


A dissertation is a lengthy and formal document that provides arguments to defend a thesis. Essentially, the dissertation aims to show original contributions whilst addressing the research topic/topic. Starting with the hypothesis and/or research questions , the author then performs the research they must base their dissertation on to collect evidence to support his arguments.

Another key objective of dissertation writing is to provide new concepts and ideas that will help further research and development in the chosen area. However, selecting the most appropriate dissertation topic can prove a real challenge for undergraduate, postgraduate, and PhD students.

This post suggests up-to-date and most relevant environmental engineering dissertation topics to kickstart your dissertation. These topics have been developed by PhD-qualified writers of our team , so you can trust to use these topics for drafting your dissertation.

Without further delay, please see below our selection of topics, even though you can choose any from the complete list.

Topic 1: The Role of Environmental Engineering in Urban Flood Management in Karachi, Pakistan

Topic 2: the role of information technology (it) in environmental engineering- a study to find efficacy of internet of things (iot) devices in catalytic conversion in the uk, topic 3: environmental engineering management and artificial intelligence (ai)- an assessment of the present machine learning (ml) and deep learning models for environmental management, topic 4: environmental engineering and industrial waste- a review of novel methods for reducing industrial waste to save human lives in india, topic 5: impact of enhanced anaerobic baffle cum filter reactor on household wastewater treatment in china.

These topics have been developed by PhD-qualified writers of our team , so you can trust to use these topics for drafting your dissertation.

You may also want to start your dissertation by requesting  a brief research proposal  from our writers on any of these topics, which includes an  introduction  to the topic,  research question ,  aim and objectives ,  literature review  along with the proposed  methodology  of research to be conducted.  Let us know  if you need any help in getting started.

Check our  dissertation examples  to get an idea of  how to structure your dissertation .

Review the full list of  dissertation topics for 2022 here.

2022 Environmental Engineering Research Topics

Research Aim: This research intends to find the role of environmental engineering in urban flood management in Karachi, Pakistan. Firstly, it will review the environmental engineering process for urban governance and its relationship with urban flood control. Secondly, it will show how it is used to manage urban flooding worldwide and practiced in Karachi, Pakistan. Thirdly, it will show its efficacy in Karachi, Pakistan, and identify the possible room for improvement. Lastly, it will recommend improving these areas to enhance environmental engineering to control flooding in the future.

Research Aim: This study aims to find the role of Information Technology (IT) in environmental engineering. It will show how advancements in IT improved environmental engineering management methods in the UK. It will use the case of testing the efficacy of internet of things (IoT) devices in catalytic conversion in the UK. It will find the impact of IoT-based catalytic convertors on the concentration of harmful gases in the atmosphere in the UK.

Research Aim: This research analyzes the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in environmental engineering management. It will assess the present Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning models for environmental management. It will compare and contrast these models to identify maximum efficiency and efficacy models. Moreover, it will show various administrations use these models across the globe to solve multiple environmental problems that come under the umbrella of environmental engineering. Lastly, it will recommend the best models to solve maximum ecological issues in the least developed and developing countries.

Research Aim: The study presents a review of novel methods for reducing industrial waste to save human lives in India. It will show how these methods are developed over time to solve the increasing industrial waste problem in developing countries like India. Moreover, it will compare these methods to find the best ones that can be incorporated into the Indian industries to balance production and environmental waste.

Research Aim: This research finds the impact of enhanced anaerobic baffle cum filter reactor on household wastewater treatment in China. It will show how the introduction of an anaerobic baffle cum filter affected the treated household wastewater quality. Moreover, it will analyze the current practices in China. It will compare them with other major countries such as the US, UK, Japan, etc., to differentiate between different methods with the same technology. Lastly, it will propose changes in the current practices to improve the efficacy of an enhanced anaerobic baffle cum filter reactor.

Covid-19 Environmental Engineering Research Topics

The impacts of covid-19 on environmental engineering.

Research Aim: This study will focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on Environmental Engineering.

The role of Environmental engineers during COVID-19

Research Aim: This study will focus on environmental engineers’ role in identifying the factors that affect COVID-19 transmission.

List of Environmental Engineering Dissertation Topics

The following environment engineering dissertation topics may interest the researchers who intend to undertake projects to reduce carbon emissions. It should be noted that the area of environmental engineering has grown tremendously in Europe over the last few years, thanks to the growing need to control the carbon footprint.

  • Reconstruction of vehicle trajectories with dynamic macroscopic data
  • Design and development of a system for measuring the carbon index of an energy-intensive company
  • The water footprint of sugar and sugar-based ethanol
  • Process improvement techniques to identify and remove waste in an automotive industry
  • The positive and negative impacts of car mobility
  • Fresh Water and Bioenergy
  • Designing of carbon measurement standards
  • How organisations in the fogging industry achieve improved energy efficiency by changing burners within furnaces
  • To study the characteristics of industrial effluents, sewage, and water of river Yamuna at Agra.
  • A Survey of Heavy Metals Concentration In Biosolids of Sewage Treatment Plant
  • Improving processes to reduce electricity usage and reduce the system inefficiencies
  • Study and Comparative Analysis of Ecofriendly Wastewater Recycling Plants
  • To study the Ash generation and Its Utilization.
  • Study of Air Pollution Control and Its monitoring at Thermal Power Plant
  • Bio-Medical Waste Management: A Case Study
  • Determining water quality with the help of water conductivity probes
  • Study of energy usage in a machining factory with the help of efficient control using the Information Technology
  • Plastic Waste Quantification, characterization, and its management in the UK
  • Treatment of Coloured Effluent through HRTS System in Integrated pulp and paper industry
  • Physico Chemical Analysis and assessment of drinking water supplied.
  • Industrial wastewater recycling
  • Third World and First World Environmental Issues
  • Hazardous Waste Management: A case study
  • Environmental Impact of Cement Industry: A case study
  • An Analytical Study of Physico Chemical Study of Characteristics of Groundwater
  • Development of Regression Model for Water Quality Assessment in the Delhi stretch of River Yamuna

In addition to the dissertation topics listed above, our dissertation writers can suggest even more environmental engineering dissertation topics to precisely suit the needs of your subject and area of research and help you achieve the grade you need.

How Can ResearchProspect Help?

ResearchProspect writers can send several custom topic ideas to your email address. Once you have chosen a topic that suits your needs and interests, you can order for our dissertation outline service which will include a brief introduction to the topic, research questions , literature review , methodology , expected results , and conclusion . The dissertation outline will enable you to review the quality of our work before placing the order for our full dissertation writing service !

Important Notes:

As a student of environmental engineering looking to get good grades, it is essential to develop new ideas and experiment on existing environmental engineering theories – i.e., to add value and interest to your research topic.

The field of environmental engineering is vast and interrelated with so many other academic disciplines. That is why creating an environmental engineering dissertation topic that is specific, sound, and actually solves a practical problem that may be rampant in the field is imperative.

We can’t stress how important it is to develop a logical research topic based on your entire research. There are several significant downfalls to getting your topic wrong; your supervisor may not be interested in working on it, the topic has no academic creditability, the research may not make logical sense, and there is a possibility that the study is not viable.

This impacts your time and efforts in writing your dissertation , as you may end up in the cycle of rejection at the initial stage of the dissertation. That is why we recommend reviewing existing research to develop a topic, taking advice from your supervisor, and even asking for help in this particular stage of your dissertation.

While developing a research topic, keeping our advice in mind will allow you to pick one of the best environmental engineering dissertation topics that fulfil your requirement of writing a research paper and add to the body of knowledge.

Therefore, it is recommended that when finalizing your dissertation topic, you read recently published literature to identify gaps in the research that you may help fill.

Remember- dissertation topics need to be unique, solve an identified problem, be logical, and be practically implemented. Please look at some of our sample environmental engineering dissertation topics to get an idea for your own dissertation.

How to Structure your Environmental Engineering Dissertation

A well-structured dissertation can help students to achieve a high overall academic grade.

  • A Title Page
  • Acknowledgements
  • Declaration
  • Abstract: A summary of the research completed
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction : This chapter includes the project rationale, research background, key research aims and objectives, and the research problems. An outline of the structure of a dissertation can also be added to this chapter.
  • Literature Review : This chapter presents relevant theories and frameworks by analysing published and unpublished literature on the chosen research topic to address research questions . The purpose is to highlight and discuss the selected research area’s relative weaknesses and strengths whilst identifying any research gaps. Break down the topic and key terms that can positively impact your dissertation and your tutor.
  • Methodology : The data collection and analysis methods and techniques employed by the researcher are presented in the Methodology chapter, which usually includes research design , research philosophy, research limitations, code of conduct, ethical consideration, data collection methods, and data analysis strategy .
  • Findings and Analysis : Findings of the research are analysed in detail under the Findings and Analysis chapter. All key findings/results are outlined in this chapter without interpreting the data or drawing any conclusions. It can be useful to include graphs, charts, and tables in this chapter to identify meaningful trends and relationships.
  • Discussion and Conclusion : The researcher presents his interpretation of the results in this chapter and states whether the research hypothesis has been verified or not. An essential aspect of this section of the paper is to link the results and evidence from the literature. Recommendations with regards to implications of the findings and directions for the future may also be provided. Finally, a summary of the overall research, along with final judgments, opinions, and comments, must be included in the form of suggestions for improvement.
  • References : This should be completed following your University’s requirements
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices : Any additional information, diagrams, and graphs used to complete the dissertation but not part of the dissertation should be included in the Appendices chapter. Essentially, the purpose is to expand the information/data.

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How to find environmental engineering dissertation topics.

For environmental engineering dissertation topics:

  • Research current eco-challenges.
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You May Also Like

In this article, we suggest some topics regarding Renewable Energy so you can kick start your dissertation without any delay.

Here is a list of Geography Dissertation Topics to help you choose the one studies anyone as per your requirements.

Need interesting and manageable science dissertation topics or thesis? Here are the trending science dissertation titles so you can choose the most suitable one.






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Confirming Basic Facts

Unfortunately, environmentalism is a topic where there is a lot of conflicting opinion and misinformation on the Internet. If you're concerned about the quality of your information sources, try these:

  • Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) This link opens in a new window A collection of encyclopedias, including the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, The SAGE Reference Series on Green Society, and other titles on environmental science and engineering. Use the search box at the top of the page to search the whole database. more... less... A collection of over 2000 reference resources.
  • CQ Researcher: Environment, Climate, and Natural Resources CQ Researcher provides unbiased reports on a variety of social issues. This link goes directly to reports on environmental concerns. Before reading a report, check its date, because the database includes material back to the 1920s.

Digging Deeper

In addition to GREENR (above), use these databases to find scholarly journal articles, news, and other in-depth information about environmental science and engineering:

  • GreenFILE This link opens in a new window Focuses on the relationship between human beings and the environment from agriculture, education, law, health, and technological perspectives. more... less... GreenFILE is a database focusing on the relationship between human beings and the environment, with information on topics ranging from global warming to recycling to alternate fuel sources and beyond. Comprised of scholarly and general interest titles, as well as government documents and reports, GreenFILE offers a unique perspective on the positive and negative ways humans affect the ecology. Drawing on the connection between the environment and disciplines such as agriculture, education, law, health and technology, GreenFILE will serve as an informative resource for anyone concerned about the issues facing our planet.
  • Environmental Sciences Collection This link opens in a new window Another helpful database, but with more of a focus on pollution assessment, control, and reduction. more... less... The Environmental Sciences Collection provides abstracts and references to the environment literature covering all areas of air, land, water, and noise pollution as well as bacteriology, ecology, toxicology, risk assessment, environmental engineering, environmental biotechnology, waste management, and water resources from 1967 to the present.
  • Pollution Abstracts This link opens in a new window Includes both scholarly journals and government documents, drawing from a wide array of the sciences as well as engineering. more... less... This database provides fast access to the environmental information necessary to resolve day-to-day problems, ensure ongoing compliance, and handle emergency situations more effectively. Pollution Abstracts combines information on scientific research and government policies in a single resource. Topics of growing concern are extensively covered from the standpoints of atmosphere, emissions, mathematical models, effects on people and animals, and environmental action in response to global pollution issues. To ensure comprehensive coverage, material from conference proceedings and hard-to-find documents has been summarized along with information from primary journals in the field.
  • Water Resources Abstracts (within the Environmental Science Index) This link opens in a new window Covers all aspects of water, including conservation, management, pollution, and treatment. more... less... Water Resources Abstracts provides summaries of the world's technical and scientific literature on water-related topics covering the characteristics, conservation, control, pollution, treatment, use and management of water resources. Abstracts are drawn from journals, books, conference proceedings, and technical reports in the physical and life sciences, as well as from engineering, legal and government publications.
  • BuildingGreen This link opens in a new window BuildingGreen Suite integrates online versions of GreenSpec product listings, high-quality articles about green buildings, peer-to-peer comments, project case studies, and full text access to Environmental Building News from 2004 to date. more... less... BuildingGreen Suite integrates online versions of GreenSpec product listings, high-quality articles about green buildings, peer-to-peer comments, project case studies, and full text access to Environmental Building News from 2004 to date. This information is searchable and cross-referenced by CSI MasterFormat division, LEED credit, or green topic. Each article, product listing, and case study also lists related content and information sources. Creating a free personal account will allow you to comment on articles and participate in discussion threads.
  • govinfo This link opens in a new window A database of publications by the U.S. government, including the Department of Environmental Protection. more... less... The U.S. Government Printing Office disseminates official information from all three branches of the Federal Government.
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Your gateway to information about environmental policy and concerns in Pennsylvania.
  • Environmental Science and Resource Management Subject Guide Additional databases and library resources.
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering Subject Guide Additional databases and library resources.
  • Community, Environment, and Development Research Guide Intended to support the CED major at University Park, this guide includes helpful links for exploring environmentalism outside beyond the U.S.

Taking Action: Professional

There are a large number of well-known consumer and political organizations concerning the environment. However, there are other organizations for engineers and other scientists. By joining a professional organization, you are more likely to learn about the latest research and technological discoveries. Some have "student memberships" for lower costs. Here are a few: 

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Association of Environmental Professionals
  • American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists (AAEES)
  • ASCE: Environmental and Water Resources Institute A unit within the American Society of Civil Engineers that focuses on environmental engineering.
  • ASCE: Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate Another unit within the American Society of Civil Engineers that is focused on environmental concerns.
  • Engineers Without Borders Dedicated to community-driven development and sustainability.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists An organization of scientists committed to research and policy change on environmental and social problems.
  • U.S. PIRG A research group that uses science to investigate consumer concerns. Many states have chapters.
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers
  • American Solar Energy Society
  • American Wind Energy Association
  • Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences
  • Association of Energy Engineers
  • Ecological Society of America
  • International Hydropower Association
  • International Solar Energy Society
  • International Society for Industry Ecology
  • International Water Association
  • National Association of Clean Air Agencies
  • National Geographic Society
  • National Groundwater Association
  • Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
  • Soil and Water Conservation Society
  • Sustainability Consortium
  • US Green Building Council
  • Water Environment Federation

Taking Action: Personal

  • Penn State Sustainability Institute Although geared toward students at University Park, this site has helpful suggestions for other Penn State students, too.
  • Student Clubs at Penn State Harrisburg
  • Real Simple: Green Living Articles from Real Simple magazine on natural products, energy conservation, and more.
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Environmental Changes Are Fueling Human, Animal and Plant Diseases, Study Finds

Biodiversity loss, global warming, pollution and the spread of invasive species are making infectious diseases more dangerous to organisms around the world.

A white-footed mouse perched in a hole in a tree.

By Emily Anthes

Several large-scale, human-driven changes to the planet — including climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the spread of invasive species — are making infectious diseases more dangerous to people, animals and plants, according to a new study.

Scientists have documented these effects before in more targeted studies that have focused on specific diseases and ecosystems. For instance, they have found that a warming climate may be helping malaria expand in Africa and that a decline in wildlife diversity may be boosting Lyme disease cases in North America.

But the new research, a meta-analysis of nearly 1,000 previous studies, suggests that these patterns are relatively consistent around the globe and across the tree of life.

“It’s a big step forward in the science,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University, who was not an author of the new analysis. “This paper is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that I think has been published that shows how important it is health systems start getting ready to exist in a world with climate change, with biodiversity loss.”

In what is likely to come as a more surprising finding, the researchers also found that urbanization decreased the risk of infectious disease.

The new analysis, which was published in Nature on Wednesday, focused on five “global change drivers” that are altering ecosystems across the planet: biodiversity change, climate change, chemical pollution, the introduction of nonnative species and habitat loss or change.

The researchers compiled data from scientific papers that examined how at least one of these factors affected various infectious-disease outcomes, such as severity or prevalence. The final data set included nearly 3,000 observations on disease risks for humans, animals and plants on every continent except for Antarctica.

The researchers found that, across the board, four of the five trends they studied — biodiversity change, the introduction of new species, climate change and chemical pollution — tended to increase disease risk.

“It means that we’re likely picking up general biological patterns,” said Jason Rohr, an infectious disease ecologist at the University of Notre Dame and senior author of the study. “It suggests that there are similar sorts of mechanisms and processes that are likely occurring in plants, animals and humans.”

The loss of biodiversity played an especially large role in driving up disease risk, the researchers found. Many scientists have posited that biodiversity can protect against disease through a phenomenon known as the dilution effect.

The theory holds that parasites and pathogens, which rely on having abundant hosts in order to survive, will evolve to favor species that are common, rather than those that are rare, Dr. Rohr said. And as biodiversity declines, rare species tend to disappear first. “That means that the species that remain are the competent ones, the ones that are really good at transmitting disease,” he said.

Lyme disease is one oft-cited example. White-footed mice, which are the primary reservoir for the disease, have become more dominant on the landscape, as other rarer mammals have disappeared, Dr. Rohr said. That shift may partly explain why Lyme disease rates have risen in the United States. (The extent to which the dilution effect contributes to Lyme disease risk has been the subject of debate, and other factors, including climate change, are likely to be at play as well.)

Other environmental changes could amplify disease risks in a wide variety of ways. For instance, introduced species can bring new pathogens with them, and chemical pollution can stress organisms’ immune systems. Climate change can alter animal movements and habitats, bringing new species into contact and allowing them to swap pathogens .

Notably, the fifth global environmental change that the researchers studied — habitat loss or change — appeared to reduce disease risk. At first glance, the findings might appear to be at odds with previous studies, which have shown that deforestation can increase the risk of diseases ranging from malaria to Ebola. But the overall trend toward reduced risk was driven by one specific type of habitat change: increasing urbanization.

The reason may be that urban areas often have better sanitation and public health infrastructure than rural ones — or simply because there are fewer plants and animals to serve as disease hosts in urban areas. The lack of plant and animal life is “not a good thing,” Dr. Carlson said. “And it also doesn’t mean that the animals that are in the cities are healthier.”

And the new study does not negate the idea that forest loss can fuel disease; instead, deforestation increases risk in some circumstances and reduces it in others, Dr. Rohr said.

Indeed, although this kind of meta-analysis is valuable for revealing broad patterns, it can obscure some of the nuances and exceptions that are important for managing specific diseases and ecosystems, Dr. Carlson noted.

Moreover, most of the studies included in the analysis examined just a single global change drive. But, in the real world, organisms are contending with many of these stressors simultaneously. “The next step is to better understand the connections among them,” Dr. Rohr said.

Emily Anthes is a science reporter, writing primarily about animal health and science. She also covered the coronavirus pandemic. More about Emily Anthes

Explore the Animal Kingdom

A selection of quirky, intriguing and surprising discoveries about animal life..

Indigenous rangers in Australia’s Western Desert got a rare close-up with the northern marsupial mole , which is tiny, light-colored and blind, and almost never comes to the surface.

For the first time, scientists observed an orangutan, a primate, in the wild treating a wound  with a plant that has medicinal properties.

A new study resets the timing for the emergence of bioluminescence back to millions  of years earlier than previously thought.

Scientists are making computer models to better understand how cicadas  emerge collectively after more than a decade underground .

New research questions the long-held theory that reintroduction of Yellowstone’s wolves caused a trophic cascade , spawning renewal of vegetation and spurring biodiversity.

To protect Australia’s iconic animals, scientists are experimenting with vaccine implants , probiotics, tree-planting drones and solar-powered tracking tags.


Saturated soils could impact survival of young trees planted to address climate change

The saturated soil conditions predicted to result from increased rainfall in the UK’s upland regions could have a knock-on effect on the ambition to create more woodland in the fight against climate change, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth have spent a number of years exploring how temperate rainforests could be an effective nature-based solution to some of the planet’s greatest challenges.

They have also shown that the UK’s uplands could in future see significantly more annual rainfall than is currently being predicted in national climate models.

In new research, they found that higher soil water levels within areas such as Dartmoor, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands could have a significant impact on the survival rates of both acorns and juvenile oak saplings.

Published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management , it is the first study to highlight the importance of factoring in soil conditions when looking at where and how to create the temperate rainforests of the future.

Dr Thomas Murphy, Lecturer in Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth, is the study’s lead author. He said: “In recent years, there have been increasing calls to plant more trees as part of the global effort to combat climate change. Restoration and expansion of temperate rainforests, which are a globally rare ecosystem, is seen as one of the potential solutions. But with our previous work also predicting an increase in future rainfall we wanted to know if the woodlands we create will support naturally colonising trees in future. Our results show that higher water levels within soils directly contribute to reduced survival of both acorns and young oak trees. We believe it provides landowners, land managers and policy makers with important information as to which species might work in particular locations to support more resilient future rainforests.”

For the study, researchers planted acorns from English oaks (Quercus robur) in containers with four soil states, from completely flooded to low saturation where the water level was 220mm below the acorn.

The acorns did not survive in the flooded soils, but survival rates improved gradually – 43% at high saturation, 77% at medium saturation, and 83% at low saturation – as the water level dropped.

The surviving seedlings also exhibited reduced root:shoot ratio, leaf photosynthesis, and a lower likelihood of late season shoot growth in soils of higher saturation.

In a concurrent field experiment, juvenile English oak and Sessile oak (Quercus petraea) saplings were planted in a region of Dartmoor that is seasonally waterlogged and frequented by grazing livestock.

In these tests, the English oaks exhibited greater shoot growth and leaf photosynthesis than its close relation in areas where the soil was more saturated.

The researchers, including environmental scientists and ecologists, say the results highlight the need for better understanding of soil influence on tree development.

Dr Murphy added: “There has been extensive talk about how larger trees respond to the effects of climate change. But these results show we need to factor in the response of young trees as well, especially if they are being envisioned as an integral part of the solution. By examining their response to conditions now, while also thinking about what these locations are going to be like in 50 years’ time, we can better understand the right trees for the right locations, and hopefully make these woodlands more resilient in the long-term.”

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Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Plymouth . Original written by Alan Williams. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference :

  • Thomas R. Murphy, Mick E. Hanley, Jon S. Ellis, Paul H. Lunt. Soil saturation limits early oak establishment in upland pastures for restoration of Atlantic oak woodlands . Forest Ecology and Management , 2024; 561: 121895 DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2024.121895

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Engineering articles from across Nature Portfolio

Engineering is the design and construction of systems and structures for influencing the world around us and enhancing our experience within it. Engineers use the fundamental principles of mathematics, physics and chemistry to create machines that enable us to travel faster, provide improved medical care, and process more complicated information.

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Tiny classifier circuits as accelerators for classification of tabular data

A methodology — called auto tiny classifiers — is proposed to directly generate predictor circuits for the classification of tabular data, searching over the space of combinational logic using an evolutionary algorithm to maximize training prediction accuracy. Prediction performance is comparable to typical machine learning methods, but substantially fewer hardware resources and power are required.

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Enzymatic method for the conversion of carbon monoxide from industrial off-gases into formate

Decarbonizing the steel industry is crucial but challenging. Now, an enzymatic method is introduced for converting carbon monoxide from industrial off-gases into formate, offering a path towards carbon-neutral steel production. The enzymatic process achieves high selectivity, and operation of a 10-liter-scale reactor with real industrial emissions indicates its scalability and practical applicability.

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Microbubble ultrasound maps hidden signs of heart disease

Cardiovascular disease claims more lives each year than do the two next-deadliest diseases combined. An ultrasound technique that tracks tiny gas-filled bubbles could pave the way towards improved early detection.

  • Elisa E. Konofagou

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latest research topics in environmental engineering

Designing metal halide perovskite solar modules for thermomechanical reliability

Thermomechanical stability is a limiting factor when scaling-up perovskite solar cells. This Perspective discusses several aspects of device design that control thermomechanical degradation, including adhesion of layers and encapsulation, and the importance of accelerated degradation testing.

  • Marco Casareto
  • Nicholas Rolston

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Ambient floor vibration sensing advances the accessibility of functional gait assessments for children with muscular dystrophies

  • Megan Iammarino
  • Hae Young Noh

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Integral terminal sliding mode fault tolerant control of quadcopter UAV systems

  • Ngoc P. Nguyen
  • Phongsaen Pitakwachara

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Moisture-induced power generator fabricated on a lateral field-excited quartz resonator

  • Hyerim Baek
  • Sangmin Jeon

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Investigating a hybrid extreme learning machine coupled with Dingo Optimization Algorithm for modeling liquefaction triggering in sand-silt mixtures

  • Mohammed Majeed Hameed
  • Adil Masood
  • Ahmed Elbeltagi

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Data-driven optimization for microgrid control under distributed energy resource variability

  • Akhilesh Mathur
  • Ruchi Kumari
  • Ibrahim A. Hameed


News and Comment

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Solving the problem of hiring in STEM

The way in which researchers, scientists and engineers apply for jobs is very inefficient. Creating free online databases of candidates with filtering, ranking and video features could help to maximize reach and identify the most suitable person for each job offer much faster.

  • Mario Lanza
  • Naomi Godfrey
  • Victor Zhirnov

High-throughput characterization is key to report reliable organic thin-film transistor performance

Developing circuits for flexible and stretchable devices demands not only high performance but also reliable and predictable components, such as organic thin-film transistors. High-throughput characterization is required to build reliable structure–property relationships, which are critical for the commercialization of new materials.

  • Joseph Manion
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latest research topics in environmental engineering

Solvent reorganization model takes the lead

Accurately modeling CO 2 electroreduction is key to advancing the technology and understanding its productivity and CO 2 utilization trends. Now, Marcus–Hush–Chidsey theory offers accurate predictions of experimental results, leading to further insights beyond reaction kinetics.

  • Ahmad Elgazzar
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latest research topics in environmental engineering

latest research topics in environmental engineering

Should we fight climate change by re-engineering life itself?

L ife has transformed our world over billions of years, turning a dead rock into the lush, fertile planet we know today. But human activity is currently transforming Earth again, this time by releasing greenhouse gases that are driving dramatic changes in our climate.

What if we could harness the power of living organisms to help rein in climate change? The field of " engineering biology ," which uses genetic technology to engineer biological tools for solving specific problems, may be able to help.

Perhaps the most dramatic success to date of this nascent field is the mRNA vaccines that helped us weather the COVID pandemic. But engineering biology has enormous potential not only to help us adapt to climate change, but also to limit warming.

In our latest paper in Nature Communications , we reviewed some of the many ways engineering biology can aid the fight against climate change—and how governments and policymakers can make sure humanity reaps the benefits of the technology.

Could engineering biology help fight climate change?

We identified four ways engineering biology might help to mitigate climate change.

The first is finding better ways to make synthetic fuels that can directly replace fossil fuels. Many existing synthetic fuels are made from high-value crops such as corn and soybeans that might otherwise be used for food, so the fuels are expensive.

Some engineering biology research explores ways to make synthetic fuel from agricultural waste. These fuels could be cheaper and greener, and so might help speed up decarbonization.

For example, it would be much faster for airlines to decarbonize their existing fleets by switching to synthetic zero-carbon jet fuels, rather than waiting to replace their aircraft with yet-to-be-developed planes running on hydrogen or batteries.

The second is developing cost-effective ways to capture greenhouse emissions (from industrial facilities, construction and agriculture) and then use this waste for "biomanufacturing" valuable products (such as industrial chemicals or biofuels).

The third is replacing emissions-intensive production methods . For example, several companies are already using "precision fermentation" to produce synthetic milk that avoids the dairy industry's methane emissions. Other companies have produced microbes which promise to fix nitrogen in soil, and so help reduce use of fertilizers produced from fossil fuels.

Finally, the fourth is directly capturing greenhouse gases from the air. Bacteria engineered to consume atmospheric carbon, or plants bred to sequester more carbon in their roots, could in theory help reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

Beyond the technological and economic barriers, it's unclear whether these ideas will ever gain a social license. Given the "science fiction-like" character of some of these emerging climate responses it's essential that researchers be transparent and responsive to public attitudes.

Fact or science fiction?

Just how realistic are these ideas? Bringing a new product to market takes time, money and careful research.

Take solar power, for example. The first solar cell was created in the 1880s , and solar panels were installed on the White House roof in 1979, but it took many more decades of government support before solar power became a cost-competitive source of electricity.

The engineering biology sector is currently flooded with investor capital. However, the companies and projects attracting most investment are those with the greatest commercial value—typically in the medical, pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural sectors.

By contrast, applications whose primary benefit is to reduce greenhouse emissions are unlikely to attract much private investment. For example, synthetic jet fuel is currently much more expensive than traditional jet fuel, so there's no rush of private investors seeking to support its commercialization.

Government (or philanthropic) support of some kind will be needed to nurture most climate-friendly applications through the slow process of development and commercialization.

Back to picking winners?

Which engineering biology applications deserve governments' assistance? Right now, it's mostly too early to tell.

Policymakers will need to continually assess the social and technical merits of proposed engineering biology applications.

If engineering biology is to play a significant role in fighting climate change, policymakers will need to engage with it skillfully over time.

We argue government support should include five elements.

First, continued funding for the basic scientific research that generates new knowledge, and new potential mitigation tools.

Second, public deliberation on engineering biology applications. Some new products—such as precision-fermented synthetic milk—might gain acceptance over time even if they at first seem unattractive. Others might never gain support. For this public deliberation to reflect the interests of all humanity, low- and middle-income countries will need to gain expertise in engineering biology.

Third, regulations should be aligned with public interest. Governments should be alert to the possibility of existing industries trying to use regulations to lock out new competitors. For instance, we may see efforts from animal-based agricultural producers to restrict who can use words like "milk" and "sausage" or to ban lab-grown meat completely .

Fourth, support commercialization and scale-up of promising technologies whose primary benefit is reducing greenhouse emissions. Governments might either fund this work directly or create other incentives—such as carbon pricing, tax credits or environmental regulations—that make private investment profitable.

Fifth, long-term procurement policies should be considered where large-scale deployment is needed to achieve climate goals. For example, the US Inflation Reduction Act provides unlimited tax credits to support direct air capture. While these incentives weren't designed with engineering biology in mind, they are technologically neutral and so might well support it.

A bioengineered future in Australia?

Governments are now involved in a global race to position their countries as leaders in the emerging green economy. Australia's proposed " future made in Australia " legislation is just one example.

Other governments have specific plans for engineering biology. For example, the United Kingdom committed £2 billion (A$3.8 billion) last year to an engineering biology strategy, while the US CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 called for the creation of a National Engineering Biology Research and Development Initiative.

If such interventions are to be economically and ecologically successful, they will need to work with still-developing technology.

Can policymakers work with this kind of uncertainty? One approach is to develop sophisticated assessments of the potential of different technologies and then invest in a diverse portfolio, knowing many of their bets will fail. Or, they might create technology-neutral instruments, such as tax credits and reverse auctions, and allow private industry to try to pick winners.

Engineering biology promises to contribute to a major step up in climate mitigation. Whether it lives up to this promise will depend on both public and policymakers' support. Given just how high the stakes are, there's work for all of us to do in reckoning with this technology's potential.

More information: Jonathan Symons et al, Engineering biology and climate change mitigation: Policy considerations, Nature Communications (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-46865-w

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article .

Provided by The Conversation

Credit: CC0 Public Domain


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