Monthly Archives

September 2019

Climate change makes sustainable water management more important than ever

By | Engineering for humanity | No Comments

Whether it’s under a lake, a river or the streets of a city, Salini Impregilo is ready for whatever job needs doing to help clients improve people’s lives.

This is especially the case when it has to do with water, a sector where its leadership was confirmed for a fifth year in the latest global rankings published by Engineering News-Record (ENR), the US trade publication.

As the world’s climate changes, this most precious of resources is becoming even more precious. So much so, that the management and treatment of water has also assumed greater importance. This is not lost on Australia, which has had its fair share of droughts, floods – and everything in between.

With decades of experience, Salini Impregilo helps cities manage heavy rainfall, treat wastewater and make seawater drinkable. It also harnesses the flow of rivers to generate electricity and light up the homes of countless communities. Briefly put: it makes available everything that water has to offer.

For decades, Salin Impregilo’s dams have helped communities thrive in the most sustainable way possible, producing electricity without the harmful emissions that come from other forms of energy production. In Australia, it will be building Snowy 2.0, the expansion of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme that will provide the storage and on-demand generation needed to balance the growth of wind and solar power and the retirement of Australia’s ageing thermal power stations. The electricity produced will also support the push towards sustainable mobility, whether it be in the form of light rail transit or electric vehicles.

In the United States, it helped Las Vegas secure its water supply in case of drought by excavating a 4 km-long tunnel under nearby Lake Mead. This record-setting project saw it bring the tunnel to a pipe at the bottom of the lake. The water drawn by the pipe is pumped to a treatment plant on shore and then sent to the city. This has made the pipe – known as the Third Intake – the main supplier of water because two other pipes near the lakeshore risk going dry whenever the water level goes down in times of drought.

And when potable water is hard to come by, Salini Impregilo extracts it from the sea by means of desalination. In Dubai, the Jebel Ali M is an icon for the sector because it was the largest such plant in the United Arab Emirates at the time of its completion. With a capacity of 140 million gallons of water per day, its eight desalination units provide nearly all of the city’s potable water.

Of droughts and flooding rains

Sometimes the problem is too much water, such as when heavy rainfall overwhelms a city’s sewer system. In Washington, D.C., Salini Impregilo is excavating its second tunnel for a project to expand the system to reduce the amount of untreated stormwater and sewage that flows into nearby rivers during a storm.  Known as the Northeast Boundary Tunnel, it is the biggest component of the Clean Rivers project. By helping reduce combined sewer overflows by 98 per cent and the chance of flooding in the areas it serves from about 50 per cent to 7 per cent in any given year, it will help improve the quality of the water in the nearby Anacostia River.

In some cases, the river is polluted for reasons other than combined sewer overflows. Victim of decades of industry abuse, the Matanza Riachuelo River Basin near Buenos Aires, Argentina, is among the most contaminated in the world, putting at risk the health of millions of people. Part of a massive project supported by the World Bank, Salini Impregilo is building a pre-treatment wastewater plant, pumping stations and an evacuation tunnel to help clean it up. At a capacity of 27 cubic metres per second, the plant will be one of the biggest of its kind in the world. The water it treats will be flushed through the 12-kilometre tunnel into the River Plate where the basin empties.

Respect for the environment is a tenet that Salini Impregilo has and will always uphold in everything it does, especially when it has to do with water. It is the kind of respect that it has found in Australia, where efforts are made to grow in the most sustainable way possible. And as these efforts accompany the ambitious investments being made in infrastructure, Salini Impregilo will be there to help.

The World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne is about engineers coming together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To learn how you can help build a better world, register here

Why the world’s engineers need to come together to build a better future

By | Leadership and influence | 6 Comments

The clock is ticking to achieve the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The World Engineers Convention will explore the crucial role the profession plays in hitting the UN’s 2030 target.

“Every single one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires engineering to implement, and this is the message we have been putting out since the goals were implemented two years ago,” said Marlene Kanga, President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO).

As co-host of the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) with Engineers Australia, WFEO will tap into its network of 100 member nations, comprising almost 30 million engineers, to make this a truly global event, Kanga said.

Each of the convention’s six themes aligns to the UN Sustainable Development goals – from technology and innovation to fostering diversity and inclusion, increasing liveability and preparing the next generation of engineers.

Across the three-day event, WFEO members present alongside Australian engineers on topics that showcase how these themes are being put into practice.

Trish White, National President of Engineers Australia, said collaboration between engineers from around the world is crucial to building a more sustainable future.

“It’s an exciting time to be an engineer, and this coming together of some of the world’s most prominent engineers is the perfect time to think about how you as an individual can make an impact,” White said.

“The No. 17 UN Sustainable Development Goal is about Partnerships — what are the connections and networks that need to be pulled upon to make it possible to fulfil the other 16 goals? That’s what makes the World Engineers Conventions a wonderful opportunity to come together and see what is possible for the future of engineering.”

This is the first time the event has been held in Australia — and it’s likely to be a long time before it’s on Australian shores again. As such, both White and Kanga urged the country’s engineers to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with and learn from their peers around the world.

“There are some 500 speakers, about 25 per cent are women, and more than 60 countries are represented,” Kanga said.

“Whether it’s water, whether it’s energy, whether it’s sustainable cities, technology … It’s about engineers thinking about the impact of our work. It’s about the purpose of our work, and that makes engineering more meaningful.”

A pivotal moment

Besides coming to Australia for the first time, the World Engineers Convention also coincides with Engineers Australia’s centenary year.

The organisation was founded just after the end of World War I, which was a time of immense change similar to the one we are experiencing now, said White.

“It was formed then to help the country’s engineers take advantage of the great technological changes that were happening and help the many disciplines come together,” she said.

“We’re in a rather similar time now. The next 100 years will be a time of enormous technological change, so we need to come together to think about what is the potential future of the engineering profession.”

Having the World Engineers Convention hosted by Australia during this important time in Engineers Australia’s history speaks to the centenary theme of ‘Anything Is Possible’, Kanga said.

“I think we can communicate about Australian engineering to the world, just as the world’s engineers will communicate to Australia,” she said.

“We are bringing the world to Melbourne.”

The World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne is about engineers coming together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To learn how you can help build a better world, register here

diversity and inclusion in engineering

Does engineering have a diversity and inclusion problem?

By | Diversity and inclusion | One Comment

Engineering is crucial to achieving all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), but there are some that the profession seems to struggle with more than others, including the goals aligned with diversity.

“Diversity, inclusion, equity and particularly intergenerational equity fundamentally underpin the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Tanya Ha, Director of Engagement at Science in Public.

This topic is particularly relevant, as the six themes of the World Engineers Convention (WEC) align to the UN SDGs and the role engineers play in achieving them. Diversity and inclusion – and the role this plays in the future of the engineering profession – will be a topic for debate at the global event. 

“The SDGs are focal points for solutions to problems, and engineers are the ultimate problem solvers. In order to achieve these goals, engineers and the organisations that employ them need to walk the talk and embrace diversity,” said Ha, a WEC speaker.

“Engineering companies have much to gain by embracing people from diverse backgrounds and will do a better job of solving problems with a variety of minds at the table.”

Events like WEC are an opportunity for the global engineering community to discuss the importance of diversity in all forms to the future of the profession. With representatives from more than 70 countries, and almost 25 per cent women presenters, there will be a variety of viewpoints and inputs to solving this issue.

Sparking imagination

One WEC speaker who will be tackling the subject of gender diversity in engineering is Susan Freeman-Greene, CEO of Engineering New Zealand. She said moving the dial is a collective effort, and usually takes a three-pronged approach. 

“There’s a pipeline issue, there’s a recruitment issue and then there’s retention,” she said. 

Freeman-Greene said some roadblocks to improving the profession’s gender balance stem from what she calls “engineering’s perception issue” — and this is especially important to getting more girls to consider engineering in the first place.

To this end, Engineering New Zealand launched a program for school-aged children called The Wonder Project, which is aimed at exciting and inspiring kids with hands-on projects and challenges so that they not only want to do STEM subjects, but can see that a career in engineering is within reach. 

“We show engineering in its full discipline diversity — it’s not just structural and civil,” Freeman-Greene said. 

“We tell stories about the impact engineering makes on the world.” 

Capturing a child’s imagination is a great start, but retention and support are proving to be pressing issues as well, and the number of women in engineering tends to taper further down the career track. 

“At universities [in New Zealand], 23 per cent of engineers are women. But then they graduate and 30 per cent leave within five to 10 years of becoming practising engineers,” Freeman-Greene said. 

All together, about 14 per cent of the country’s engineers are women, which is slightly higher than Australia’s 12 per cent. This presents an opportunity to create a movement, Freeman-Greene said.

Engineering New Zealand began a program to encourage organisations to rethink their practices around gender diversity and commit to its Diversity Agenda initiative, which has a goal of 20 per cent women in the profession by 2020. 

The organisation created a suite of resources and education programs for organisations to evaluate their recruitment practices and workplace policies. The goal was to get leaders thinking about how even the smallest change could make a big difference. For example, flexible work policies that account for caregiving responsibilities of both men and women can have a major effect.

“It’s about generating those conversations, and I think it also gives people courage,” Freeman-Greene said. 

“We’ve had people say, ‘I wouldn’t have raised this before, but I will now’. It’s a really hard thing because it’s not people intentionally excluding, but it is just understanding the bias that we all carry.”

She added that as part of the Diversity Agenda, organisations are committing to inclusive graduate programs, workplace policies, leadership opportunities, mentoring… the list goes on.

“Changing people and changing how they want to think about the world and how they see the world is not easy — it doesn’t happen overnight,” Freeman-Greene said. 

“But this is for the future of the profession, because if collectively we don’t shift the dial on diversity, we will not get the best talent and we will not remain as relevant.”

The culture shift

Conversations about diversity in engineering usually centre on gender diversity. But according to Krishna Bodanapu, Managing Director and CEO at international engineering firm Cyient and speaker at the World Engineers Convention, cultural diversity is just as important a consideration. 

“If we start with what we can change, that is our organisation,” he said.

“If we can change that sort of mental model of the organisation to say, ‘When we hire people, it should be representative of the local market,’ it’s a small change overall, but a big one for the organisation.”

For a large multinational company like Cyient, he said it can be difficult to get disparate teams from around the world collaborating across languages, time zones and cultural differences. However, he said, having strong foundational values can transcend these differences.

“Many of the things we work on have a significant impact if they fail, not just from a cost perspective, but, more importantly from a disaster perspective — that people’s lives depend on our work,” he said.   

“This whole globalised view of engineering works when you trust each other … You’re only as strong as your weakest link, in that sense.” 

Technology is making the world smaller, and connecting people in ways that now allow engineers in India to collaborate concurrently on projects with engineers in Germany and liaise with teams in Australia.  

Designing systems that allow for seamless communication — no matter where teams are based — is one thing. However, making sure that products take into consideration local context is another challenge all together. However, Bodanapu thinks it’s something that can be solved by making sure teams are diverse to capture those nuances. 

He cites one example where the same design for the interior of a piece of construction equipment was used in two very different markets: India and the US. Rather than get input on expectations for each market, the company applied the US design to the Indian market as well. It failed to take off. 

Workers in India found no need for the jumbo-sized cup holders and expensive air conditioning systems featured in interior designed for the US market, Bodanapu said. But what they did want was ports to connect phone chargers. 

“While it’s a small thing, not understanding that actually took away a significant amount of their market share because they came with the latest and greatest product to the Indian market, which didn’t sit well,” Bodanapu said. 

Situations like this illustrate why it’s important to get input from the end users, wherever and whoever they might be. 

“Unless engineers represent the world they serve and the communities they serve, then engineers will design a world that doesn’t reflect those communities and that perpetuates these global challenges,” Freeman-Greene said. 

It’s also smart from a business strategy perspective.

“In the next 20 to 30 years, your largest markets are not necessarily going to be the US and Europe; they’re going to be India, China and a lot of East Asia,” Bodanapu said.

“Unless the engineering workforce is also mimicking or taking into consideration that shift, the profession will become the roadblock, rather than the accelerator or the enabler.” 

Ha agreed, saying that more engineering organisations are seeing inclusion and diversity projects as more than just “a box to tick”. 

Research supports the benefits of organisational diversity as well: The [email protected] Index, produced by Diversity Council Australia, found that people who work in inclusive teams are 10 times more likely to be highly effective workers and nine times more likely to innovate compared to those on non-inclusive teams. 

“Organisations that are proactive on the diversity and inclusion front often say they do so because ‘It’s the right thing to do’,” Ha said.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing examples where organisations are documenting the strong business case for diversity. In time, I hope it’s widely recognised as both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.”

A holistic view

As more individuals, organisations and countries look to create a more inclusive engineering profession, Freeman-Greene said it’s important to view it through the lens of how it affects the future of the profession.

“This isn’t just a women’s issue. This is an engineering issue that belongs to all of us,” she said. 

Although the dual issues of diversity and inclusion persist, it’s not all bad news — progress has been made, at least from an awareness perspective. 

“I think even five years ago, diversity initiatives would have been looked at as just another fad. But now, I think there is a conscious effort from a lot of people who want to make a difference, who want to make an impact,” Bodanapu said. 

“It’s not a nice thing to do; it’s a smart thing to do.”

What are the challenges facing the engineering profession when it comes to diversity and inclusion? How can the profession address these challenges now and into the future? Diversity and inclusion is one of the six themes at the upcoming World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne.

To learn more and to register, click here

renewable energy exports as hydrogen

What will it take to make hydrogen the clean fuel of the future?

By | Climate change resilience | 6 Comments

Interest in hydrogen as a source of clean energy has risen in recent years, and engineers have a key role in scaling up technology to help Australia fulfil its potential as a major exporter.

According to Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, a keynote speaker at the upcoming World Engineers Convention, Australia has all of the key ingredients needed to make and export hydrogen.

“We’ve got the land, the sun, the wind, the coal and gas, the technology smarts, the regional hubs, the global networks and the industry expertise,” he said.

Finkel added that clean hydrogen technologies could also help reduce emissions on the home front. For example, hydrogen-powered trucks, trains and ships could meet the growing demand for zero-emissions transport.

Hydrogen could also replace liquified natural gas (LNG) in domestic and industrial heating, which has the potential to cut emissions and reduce energy bills at a greater rate than electrification.

And engineers will have a key role in making hydrogen a viable energy source for both local use and export.

“The key challenges here are to get to scale, bring down production and utilisation costs and improve efficiencies – these are all the bread and butter of engineers,” Finkel explained.

Why now?

As well as a zero-emissions energy alternative to coal, oil and natural gas, hydrogen can be used as a feedstock for industrial chemistry.

And while this isn’t the first time the world has gotten excited about a hydrogen revolution, Finkel said current interest is being driven by factors including rapidly falling production costs, as well as hydrogen fuel cell transport options such as the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, which are starting to compete with petrol-fuelled vehicles in terms of cost, efficiency and performance.

hydrogen powered cars

Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells offer benefits like faster charging compared to electric vehicles.

“This isn’t the first time the world has been interested in hydrogen. But I can tell you that this time it is different,” he added.

Another driver is that energy-intensive countries such as South Korea and Japan do not have the capacity to generate enough clean and renewable electricity to meet their needs.

“These countries will be looking to import zero-emissions energy. This is where clean hydrogen comes into the picture,” Finkel said.

Japan has already made a strong commitment to importing hydrogen from Australia. Construction has recently begun on a government-backed joint venture between Japanese and Australian industry to prove the technology to liquefy hydrogen produced from brown coal in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and ship it to Japan, although carbon capture and storage will be needed to prevent increased local emissions if the trial is scaled up to commercial proportions.

It won’t happen overnight

Finkel said that turning this opportunity into a real-world transformation will require both the production and use of hydrogen to be significantly scaled up.

“This is not something that can happen overnight. It is a journey to be navigated with patience, innovation and determination. We will need to build out gradually, learning and recalibrating along the way,” he added.

But Finkel believes that Australia has what it takes to build a large-scale hydrogen industry, citing the three decades of work that has put Australia in a position to surpass Qatar as the world’s leading exporter of LNG.

To help the country fulfil its potential, Finkel is leading the development of a national hydrogen strategy commissioned by the Coalition of Australian Governments Energy Council (COAG), which is due for release in December .

Australia Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel

Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist

The strategy is focused on six areas: hydrogen exports; hydrogen for transport; hydrogen in the gas network; hydrogen for industrial users; hydrogen to support electricity systems; and issues such as safety, finance, and research and development (which could affect the other five areas).

In July, the Hydrogen Working Group released nine issues papers that focus on various aspects of the emerging industry, which has already attracted more than $100 million in Federal Government funding. Finkel said these papers provide some indication of what the final strategy will look like, and will provide more details during his WEC keynote in November, when the strategy is closer to completion.

Demand for engineering resources

Finkel said scaling up hydrogen production and use will require a huge quantity of engineering and manufacturing resources.

In the longer term, engineers will be needed to maintain the reliability of the hydrogen energy network by developing smart systems to manage diverse networks and loads, and solving the challenges of large-scale storage.

They will also be key players in managing trade-offs and opportunities as we move from independent electricity distribution and transport sectors to a coupled relationship governed by hydrogen use.

And while the challenges are far from trivial, there is scope to use hydrogen along with other clean energy technologies to improve reliability, while reducing energy costs and emissions.

“If we get this right, we will all benefit from using new technologies to overcome the problems that have emerged from the use of older technologies,” Finkel said.

Dr Alan Finkel will be a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne, where he will explore the challenges of scaling up to meet the dream of a low-emission planet based on the development of Australia’s national strategy for clean hydrogen.

Register here 



Every one of the Sustainable Development Goals needs engineers

By | Sustainable Development Goals | No Comments

If the world is to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it must turn to engineers for help, writes Adrian Piani.

When the United Nations replaced its Millennium Development Goals of 2000-2015 with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the list of outcomes grew from eight to 17. A better future went from one focused on bringing along developing countries to one bringing along everyone.

Seeking to combat “all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change”, the goals also brought into view the importance of engineers in achieving a brighter future.

A look at the list for the period 2015 to 2030 quickly calls up implications for the profession. Goals 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities) have obvious engineering requirements associated with them.

According to the UN Development Programme, 40 per cent of the global population is affected by water scarcity. The demand for energy is growing, yet the need to mitigate growth in greenhouse gas emissions is clear. The planet is increasingly connected, yet four billion people have no internet access. And more than half of humanity is in cities, with this number set to become two-thirds by 2050, creating many new ‘megacities’.     

There are other goals on the list that have a definite, if not immediately obvious, need for engineering. Number 12 — responsible consumption and production — will need improved methods of recycling and processing if things like food waste are to be reduced.

Then consider number 2: zero hunger. The production of more – and more nutritious – food will be aided by factors that include pest outbreak and climate modelling, safe and sustainable herbicides and fertilisers, and the development of different strains of crops and animals. All of this will require expertise from the relevant engineering disciplines.     

United Nations Sustainable Development GoalsAnswering the call

The profession’s leadership is keenly aware of the need for its contribution. The global peak body, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), has a strategic goal of advancing the SDGs through engineering. Dr Marlene Kanga, a past President of Engineers Australia and the current President of the WFEO, tells us that “every one of the SDGs requires engineering”.

This even includes goal 16: peace, justice and strong institutions. Corruption is a huge waste for developing countries. The WFEO, said Kanga, “has a focus on anti-corruption in engineering, in infrastructure development … and we will certainly have a focus on this at the World Engineers Convention 2019”.

Bringing everyone on the planet along through the SDGs will require a noticeable beefing up of engineering muscle. As an example, it’s predicted that Africa, if it’s to meet the goals, will need a minimum of 2.5 million new engineers to create the necessary economic and social infrastructure.   

Building the future

We also asked the Green Building Council of Australia, which has worked as part of the National Sustainable Development Council, about the goals’ relevance to the built environment. The GBCA, which launched the nation’s Green Star sustainability rating system, represents more than 600 companies and is “the nation’s authority on sustainable buildings, communities and cities”.

Sandra Qian, Senior Advisor of Policy and Government Relations at the organisation, said the SDGs are influencing the way its members think about sustainability issues, with “a sharper focus in our sector on getting the balance right in our cities, communities and buildings”.

Furthermore, engineers, according to the GBCA, had a “clear line of sight to the ways that SDGs can be achieved in their line of work, through those elements of the SDGs which are material, and also by influencing outcomes”, citing a program that linked with Goal 11.

“Our work with rail authorities in Victoria to develop Green Star — Design and As Built railway stations, was a great example of how engineers are using their market power to improve regular business practices by ensuring the principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability were included in their projects,” Qian said.

The SDGs offer a framework for sustainability, peace and prosperity. Engineers have an important part to play in achieving these admirable goals. 

Adrian Piani is the former Chair of the College of Environmental Engineers, Engineers Australia, and the current Chief Engineer of the Australian Capital Territory.


The six themes of the World Engineers Convention are aligned to the the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Contribute to building a more sustainable future and register today