Environmental Engineering

Please note that this course is presently not offered to distance learners. We hope to be able to offer this again in future.

Environmental engineering is a crucially important field in a world that is beset with social problems and environmental crises. These modern problems and crises are mostly a direct result of bad decisions and harmful actions taken in the course of history by human beings. In a very broad sense of the term, we have “engineered” the problems facing society and nature today, and it is up to us to engineer our way clear of them and into a world that is amenable to a healthy and fulfilling life for all, using better knowledge and wiser judgment.

The course aims to present the subject with a good latitude of coverage, examining its development and practice in a holistic way, so that its place in assisting graduates to deal with environmental problems and offer solutions will be meaningful. Students should come out of the course with:

  1. a basic familiarity with the environmental issues of today (e.g. population growth, pollution, resource depletion, diminishing bio-diversity),
  2. a basic familiarity with various approaches (e.g. ecological science, resource economics, environmental law, environmental ethics),
  3. familiarity with environmental management techniques and technologies at a level appropriate for a practicing professional (e.g. cost-benefit analyses, impact assessments, ameliorative technologies, appropriate technology choices).

Module 1: Our coastal areas

The first module on "Our coastal areas" provides an overview of the
West Coast of South Africa and Namibia in terms of what is there and
what activities take place along the coast.

The first lecture on the "General Environment" covers aspects relaing
to oceans and currents and marine and coastal ecosystems, as well as
aspects relating to the history and population of this coast. The
second lecture is dedicated to "Activities" along the coast, such as
tourism, mining and fishing, and their use of resources, while also
providing an overview of the socio-economic lansdcape.

Module 2: Tools and Governance

The first module on Tools and Governance provides an understanding of
what good governance is, its characteristics and the rules of good
governance, and what good management is, its importance for coastal
areas, and tools for implementing good management practices.

The first lecture on "Good Governance" covers the characteristics of
good governance, its place in sustainable development and the rules of
good governance seen in coastal legislation and policy. The relevance of
environmental ethics is discussed and students are asked to apply it in
an analysis of the environmental decision making process for the
proposed pebble bed modular reactor on the west coast of South Africa.

The second lecture discusses the essence of good management, management
of coastal resources and gives an introduction to tools for such
management, namely, ICZM, EIA and SIA.

Module 3: Water

The first lecture in this module (Water Quality) aims to provide first a brief overview of the diversity of freshwater ecosystems, how they function and the services that many of them provide to humans. It is only in the light of this information that the implications of different effects on water quality can be understood, in terms of both human and ecosystem health. The lecture outlines the major components of water quality, and summarises how they change, and some of the ecological and /or human health implications of these changes. The use of various water quality management objectives / effluent quality restrictions / guidelines in South Africa is also discussed. Reading material discusses specific effects of human settlements on freshwater ecosystems, and outlines the complexities of catchment level impacts, to show the linkages between social, economic and environmental decisions.

The second lecture (Water Conservation and Demand Management) provides a perspective on the water resource situation in South Africa, and analyses the need for new approaches to water management in light of this situation. Demand side solutions through water conservation and demand management (WC/WDM) are discussed. Short, medium and long term measures are listed as part of a water conservation programme.

After completing the Water module, a student should be able to:

  1. Understand the basic freshwater ecosystem functioning, the different types of aquatic systems and the processes that drive aquatic ecosystem functions
  2. Discuss river water quality, in terms of its natural state and what influences changes
  3. Understand the issues surrounding pollution of aquatic systems
  4. Outline the causes of water quality problems associated with human settlements
  5. Outline how appropriate levels of services support waste prevention and waste minimisation policies
  6. Outline the problems and constraints with respect to the provision of these services
  7. Understand South Africa’s water resource situation with regard to availability, requirements and its use
  8. Define and show understanding of basic concepts and principles that underline WC/WDM
  9. Explain the importance of WC/WDM and its contribution to sustainability of water resource development and management
  10. Explain the philosophical approach of Integrated Water Resource Management
  11. Conceptualize typical flow chart of WC/WDM in a water supply chain and its key supporting activities
  12. Analyze water use situation and identify opportunities for WC/WDM
  13. Apply framework of action to develop a program on WC/WDM
  14. Be able to relate essential techniques such as life cycle assessment, pinch technology and cleaner production on its impact into WC/WDM

Students are also expected to apply the knowledge acquired in:

  1. the analysis of two case studies, one about water quality effects of settlements and another about industrial water management 
  2. the analysis of newspaper articles about river pollution and municipal water services
  3. two self-tests


Module 4: Energy

The first lecture in this module is an introductory section that looks at the global energy situation, before focussing on some of the key aspects of the South African energy scene. The second lecture in the module addresses issues of energy efficiency and what practical steps can be taken to reduce energy usage, and quantify the associated cost savings.

Learning objectives:

After completing the Energy module, a student should be able to:

  1. Explain briefly the importance of energy
  2. Explain and use the energy-specific terminology as discussed in the notes
  3. Discuss the environmental impacts of different energy sources
  4. Identify where energy losses in a typical industrial/commercial case are likely to occur and how to reduce or eliminate these
  5. Do calculations to determine energy losses in typical industrial and commercial applications
  6. Calculate energy and cost savings when efficiency and conservation measures are implemented in typical industrial and commercial applications

In addition, students should:

  1. Have a basic grasp of the global energy situation
  2. Discuss strategies to ensure global and local energy security
  3. Understand the importance of energy efficiency and conservation
  4. Know the basic steps to follow in implementing an energy efficiency plan


Module 5: Air Quality

The first lecture of this module provides an overview of air pollution issues - the health and environmental impacts and sources - and discusses a system for Air Quality Management. The second lecture is a case study that focusses on vehicle transport as a major source of air pollution in the City of Cape Town.
The module includes a description of the main outdoor (ambient) air pollutants in urban areas and their health impacts, a brief survey of the most common sources of air pollution, an overview of an Emmission Inventory and the basic methods of estimating emmission rates from each of the main categories of air pollutatnt sources, a description of an Air Quality Management System, and a case study : Estimating Vehicle Emmissions in the City of Cape Town.

Module 6: Waste

This module provides an overview of the fields of Waste and Wastewater, each dealt with in separate lectures.The Waste Management lecture covers waste collection, area cleaning and waste disposal. The Wastewater Treatment lecture covers the different treatment processes of a wastewater treatment plant, including both aerobic and anaerobic processes.

After completing the solid Waste Management lecture, students should:
1Understand the basic processes involved in operating a sanitary landfill
2. Appreciate the need for waste minimisation in an urban setting
3. Know how landfills are classified
4. Have a broad understanding of the minimum standards
5. Understand leachate and gas production,and their management
6. Understand the concept, and need for integrated waste management, and how to draft&integrated waste management plans