As the Principal Advisor of Brinson and Associates, Ashley supportsorganisationsto develop strategiesforinnovative, technology-driven sectors. Ashley is a Non-Executive Director of a construction technology company. He is the Founder and CEO of Greener Technologies and Solarobotix.
Ashley was the CEO of The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineeringat the Universityof Sydney and the Solar Energy Alliances Manager for Dow Corning,a technology supplier to robotics and solar energy partners. Ashley invented, designed, constructed and managed major siliconfacilities in the US, Europe and Asia.
Ashley holds a BChE from Georgia Tech, an MBA from Rutgers University and a Juris Doctor from Sydney University Law School. Ashley is a Fellow of Engineers Australia, a Fellow of IChemE and a lawyer of the Supreme Court of NSW.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 5 Episode 1
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Ashley Brinson
Mel: [00:00:00] Welcome to this special series of engineering heroes, where we’re actually going to be talking to some of the authors that have contributed to a special article series. That’s coming out in the create magazine for March, especially for world engineering day.
[00:00:14]First thing I wanted to ask Ashley, just where are you at at the moment? Why has create asked you specifically to write an article about the environment?
[00:00:23]Ashley: [00:00:23] Well, look, I’m working on a couple of projects right now that have a strong connection to the environment. I have a consultancy brinson & associates proprietary limited and be doing some consulting with The new South Wales smart sensor network. They’ve just completed a project with Sydney water to conserve water, uh, water leaks from pipes.
[00:00:45] Uh, that’s a big project for them and we’re working with the international copper association on how we can create a zero emission copper mine for the future. And that’s also got a watern theme on it. How to make water efficiency. And a couple of mining and a copper is really essential to create the , copper wind turbines, the solar panels that, that have a lot of copper in them and the copper that’s in an electric vehicle, all the motors and charging stations and all of that.
[00:01:16] So, all of that has an environmental connection to it. I’m a passionate supporter of the circular economy and, Also have some endeavors ongoing now with a startup company and greener technologies.
[00:01:29]Mel: [00:01:29] You’ve definitely got your fingers in a lot of pies there for engineering for the environment.
[00:01:34] Can you tell us a little bit about the article?
[00:01:35]Ashley: [00:01:35] Uh, sure. I had a little conversation with a fellow from EA and we chatted and he was asking me about what is the circular economy. And I, I drew the analogy that in 2020, 2021, we’ve all been walked into our homes for some period of time. And if you could imagine, as an analogy, if you’re locked into one room of your home for a long period of time and everything that came into that room had to stay in that room for long period of time.
[00:02:04] That’s sort of an idea about what the circular economy might be. You know, you’re in the room, we’re on a mobile phone and a laptop right now. I need, I need energy. So there’s an energy demand there. We all need clean water to survive. And, um, that’s got to come into the room. If you need food, call up and order some foods and take out food delivered to your home.
[00:02:26] It comes in a plastic container. all of that is in the room. And over a period of time, you find out that, the plastic containers that are collecting in the room. There’s no place to put that the food waste, there’s not place to put that. And all of the, uh, the sort of the triangle of, of energy demand, the way that we manage our food, food, and our waste, and then this accumulation of unrecyclable materials, unusable, residue that’s left over that that’s sort of our idea about the challenges that we face on this planet.
[00:02:59]Dom: [00:02:59] So how’s recycling different to the circular economy.
[00:03:03]Ashley: [00:03:03] Recycling is a cornerstone of the circular economy, but if we were living in sort of a perfect ideal world, then the goods and materials that we’re using, wouldn’t create waste and that waste wouldn’t be edited landfill, and you wouldn’t need to separate things out and remake them into something new.
[00:03:23] Um, a lot of the goods, a lot of the items that we purchase and that we use on a regular basis these days, unfortunately, they don’t have a long life in the economy. And then perhaps our parents or grandparents, some generations ago we didn’t have plastic bottles and you didn’t really even need a plastic bottle.
[00:03:42] So a lot of these items are just around for convenience and they have been put into the economy for economic reasons, uh, that don’t have anything to do with the cost of disposing of the material or repurposing, cleaning them out, putting them back into service. So, recycling is sort of the opportunity of, of last resort.
[00:04:03]it’s better than landfilling waste or in Europe incinerating that waste. Um, but it would be better if we designed out those materials rather than take the energy and the effort to recycle them. If we just designed them out, um, things like, uh, plastic cutlery that gets thrown away in our, you use it for a few minutes and throw up in a way it would be better to have durable dishes, durable cups. A water bottle is a good example.
[00:04:30] Uh, you know, a stainless steel water bottle, that stays in the economy for 10 years. Maybe that that’s a better example, then a throwaway item that only there and being used perhaps for a few minutes while you’re drinking water from it.
[00:04:43]Don’t get me wrong. Recycling is essential. It’s necessary, but it’s not nearly sufficient for the size of the problem we’ve got of materials, being created, people, purchasing those materials and using them for very short period of time. And then they have no use whatsoever.
[00:05:00] So recycling is, is a necessary part, but it’s not nearly enough. engineers are there to design great things. And part of the circular economy is how do we design waste out? pick an automobile as an example, how do we design an automobile so that it comes out of the factory and it goes into service for 10, 15 years.
[00:05:22] Maybe it doesn’t service for 20, 25 years. And then it comes out of service for a period of time. It gets sort of taken apart, rebuilt the back together and goes back into service for another 20, 25 years. How could we create goods that have almost permanent enduring value? And can be remanufactured through many, many cycles without creating a big junkyard heap at the end that that that’s the idea of the circular economy and as engineers, if we can , Preferentially choose designs that have the capability of, of the zero carbon emission, zero, environmental damage, and very long enduring value frequently, the overall lifetime economics of that is cheaper than buying something, using it for a few minutes and then disposing of it and having to landfill it and having it leave the economy.
[00:06:13]Dom: [00:06:13] So engineers obviously have a fairly strong role in making sure that their designs designs take that into consideration, but are there are other considerations for engineers and what they should be doing in regards to creating a healthier planet?
[00:06:26]Ashley: [00:06:26] I think understanding the unrealized costs and the unrealized waste that are there. So, you know, if, if carbon dioxide comes out the tailpipe of a fossil fuel driven automobile, it doesn’t actually cost anything to dispose of that carbon dioxide. And yet it goes up into the atmosphere. It contributes to global warming and our children and our grandchildren and made for long periods of time that carbon dioxide is going to be in the atmosphere. And so we are actually using resources for our personal convenience today, without considering in, and factoring in the cost of actually dealing with the garbage we’re creating and passing that problem on two people that are coming after us.
[00:07:14] That’s a good example of it.
[00:07:16]Mel: [00:07:16] Are you seeing that there’s actually a demand though to consider the environment at the very early stages, at that design stage? it feels like it’s very much a case of the user recycling. The user puts it away. It’s not their problem. They don’t think about it. And then someone else worries about it.
[00:07:34] But if I’m creating a new product to market, should the entire life cycle of that product be taken into consideration from the very beginning?
[00:07:48]Ashley: [00:07:48] Absolutely. the life cycle analysis, the lifecycle footprint of the choices that we make as consumers, we have to factor that in and consumers bear a certain amount of responsibility, but I’d say that the engineer’s bear an even greater amount of responsibility because at the core engineers or scientists, we have to understand what the science is.
[00:08:09] We have to apply science in a pragmatic way to build the world around us that we want to live in. And we’ve got to make selections on behalf sometimes of consumers and guide them towards solutions that are fit for purpose, that are pragmatic and economical, but that don’t leave a legacy behind them that will harm future generations, that will harm the animals and plants right around us in the environment. You know, an example of that might be looking at toxic chemical residues that are still in, Sydney Harbor, between sort of Sydney Olympic park region and the Sydney Harbor bridge. I think it’s, uh, PCBs heavy metals that are in the silt on the bottom of the Harbor.
[00:08:56] You know, those materials are going to be there for many, many years to come. And you see the signs say, don’t, don’t eat the fish. If you catch fish here, maybe you can eat a hundred grams a year of this fish, or some, some small amount of fish. But that was an operating, problem. Those introduced by engineers and as engineers, now that we know that the sorts of problems exist and we have to design them out and we have to prevent those kinds of, long-term consequences from our work from showing up around us. You know, there are a lot of examples from the 1980s, 1990s that are behind us in history now. So you can look at the chlorofluorocarbons, um, all of the hairspray that my mother sprayed on her hair in the 1950s and 1960s, it’s still in the environment.
[00:09:41] Right. And it has burned a hole in the ozone layer. The countries of the world got together and they said, Hey, we know that it’s invisible. We know that the hairspray that get sprayed in America or in Germany, actually drifts down and destroys the ozone living in the Southern hemisphere. Now I get sunburn here much faster than I did in other places around the world where I live.
[00:10:03] and so the release of that material in one country actually affects the health of people in another country. And so, you know, the civilized countries of the world got together and they phased out chlorofluorocarbons in the, in the same way in Europe, some decades ago, a ton of coal that was burned in country.
[00:10:26] A, had a certain amount of sulfur in it. The sulfur went up in the atmosphere, turned to sulfuric acid and it dropped on the town and country B. And so, yeah, even though the environmental, uh, activity was happening, being across a border, the effects were felt by people in another country. And so the countries got together and they’ve decided to do something about acid rain, and there was a phase out of high sulfur hydrocarbons and sulfur has been removed from those fuels. And that was all done by international treaties. And we see the same thing today with the Paris accord and the commitments that countries have made around the world about reducing carbon emissions and is exactly the same. It’s the same sort of path as a chlorofluorocarbons same sort of path as a sulfuric acid in the, in the atmosphere and acid rain.
[00:11:16] You know, mankind of got together and said, we know this isn’t good. We’ve got to phase it out. This one’s a little bit more close to home because so many economies around the world are dependent on taking fossil fuels out of the earth and selling them for fuel. And, and of course our energy systems aren’t nearly designed to cope with changing over to new energy forms yet.
[00:11:40] Engineers are in the front position there to make those changes and to lead some of the public discussion. I feel to communicate in the science and to explain that, even though it’s a lot of work to build new energy systems, Hey, those are some jobs to be had in the, in the post Corona days of, 2021, 2022.
[00:11:59]There’s a lot of energy infrastructure to be redesigned and rebuilt. And , engineers will be right there on the front row leading that work.
[00:12:07]Dom: [00:12:07] So there has been in the past, obviously a lot of government interaction in regards to issues with acid rain CFCs, and the like, are you seeing that governments are starting to push manufacturing in regards to circular the circular economy side of things in order for them to think about their products?
[00:12:26] Not just from a recycling aspect, but actually the sort of whole of life.
[00:12:30]Ashley: [00:12:30] so if you look in Europe and if you look in California, if you look in Germany as an example, there are leading engineering, consumer goods companies like Mercedes, I saw an advertisement came through the social media feed. It was a, I think the automobile was called EQ. So it was an electric vehicle.
[00:12:51] And underneath it had, how many grams of CO2 per kilometer that you’re going to traveler per a hundred kilometers. That’s a number you can see that on your diesel automobile, you can see that on your petrol driven automobile. The one had a big zero on it because it was an EV , and then the next number was how many kilometers, could you travel per kilowatt hour of charge from the charging station? And that was another statistic that was there. So in Germany and in California, the governments are changing the rules for how you advertise a good signal to consumers. Consumers are becoming, uh, aware that those carbon emissions are hurting the great barrier reef.
[00:13:34] So we want to reduce our carbon emissions and there’s sort of a symbiotic market being created of government telling people, no, it’s like looking at the nutrition labels on food. You know, that’s got so many grams of sugar is so many calories or kilojoules. It’s not healthy for my body.
[00:13:50] I don’t want to eat that. I choose not to eat that food, I choose to eat this healthier food and the same way as the engineer items and the engineered consumer goods are labeled appropriately, then consumers are going to gravitate towards those goods that are maybe better for the health of the planet.
[00:14:11] And then that takes a lot of education and a lot of rule setting in a way to communicate to people. And it also takes having truthful science communicated to people so that they understand, uh, that this is a real issue. It’s not fake news. It’s not a conspiracy or a hoax. It really is all of our health and the health of our children if planetary warming exceeds 1.5, two degrees, three degrees, really bad things happen. Uh, you know, we’ll lose the great barrier reef if action isn’t taken very aggressively. And it may not be confined one nation, right. It has to be a collective action of all 7 billion people on the planet.
[00:14:51]And then, you know, maybe we get, keep our great ecological treasures of the world. And and if if we sleep through this next 10 years, it’s really irreversible. There’s no time to waste. We’ve got to get acting now.
[00:15:02]Mel: [00:15:02] This whole episode that we’re doing and the whole series little mini series I’m doing is all around world engineering day. And I just wanted to ask, just to wrap up, why do you think a world engineering day is so important?
[00:15:17]Ashley: [00:15:17] well, it’s, it’s an opportunity to look, as engineers, as designers of the built environment around us. People of the world have gotten together and they have looked at the things that they want. They’ve given us a menu called the United nations, sustainable development goals. Here’s 17 things we want.
[00:15:36] Hey, could you engineers? And could you policy makers go deliver us clean water? Could you give us decent jobs? Did you help us with gender equity? You know, that’s a menu of action for all of us on the planet, but engineers can take their mental skills and their design creative prowess, and they can actually deliver those goals through the designs that they implement.
[00:16:00] And the great things that engineers are building. So I think it’s a good day for engineers to reflect on what it is our neighbours are asking us to design and to build, and then to put our mental power towards delivering what people are asking for.
[00:16:15]Mel: [00:16:15] So much for joining us today, we’ve really enjoyed the conversations in the learning a lot more about how countries can come together or countries have to come together to ensure the future health of our planet.
[00:16:27]Dom: [00:16:27] Thanks for that.
[00:16:28]Ashley: [00:16:28] Thank you.
And thank you for listening to Engineering Heroes as we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. You can view shownotes, or more about our podcast by visiting our website. www.engineeringheroes.com.au
Be sure to mark the 4 of March in your diary and celebrate world engineering day by doing something special or extraordinary.
We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.