Thomas E. Graedel

Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Geology and Geophysics, and Director of the Center for Industrial Ecology

Research Overview

Industrial Ecology is an evolving view of industrial operations in which one seeks to design processes and manufacture products in such a way to minimize and optimize their environmental interactions.

My professional journal articles and senior-authored textbook (Industrial Ecology) provide much of the perspective and practical techniques that are helping to make this revolutionary approach to industrial practice become reality. The second, expanded edition appeared in 2002. I am also the senior author on three related books, Design for Environment, Industrial Ecology and the Automobile, and Streamlined Life-Cycle Assessment.

My environmental assessment matrix, developed while assessing AT&T products, is now a standard industrial tool for streamlined life-cycle assessments of the environmental impacts of products, processes, and facilities. With my students I have recently expanded this tool into a multi-level product that treats subsystems as well as products and health and safety concerns as well as environmental topics.

Materials and Consumption

The historical reservoir for the materials used by our technological society has been virgin stocks (ore bodies, mineral deposits, and the like). For a variety of reasons, those stocks may become inadequate or unavailable at some times or places in the future, and the loss of resources by dissipation or discard is often problematic from an environmental standpoint. These issues can be addressed by developing cycles for the stocks and flows of materials of interest, particularly if the cycles are temporally and spatially resolved.

I, along with my colleagues, have characterized regional and global cycles, current and historic, for copper and zinc, determining the stocks available in different types of reservoirs and the flows among the reservoirs. GIS techniques are used to display some of the results in spatially-gridded form. The work provides a new basis for assessments of resources sustainability, environmental impacts over time, and related policy initiatives.