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Sustainability and circularity – the smart city of the future

Self-sustenance and resilience is the need of the hour for our urban centres, we require the technology and intelligence to facilitate them. However, we are also required to contemplate on constructing cities with materials that can be used again. This blog by AICoreSpot delves into the notion of circularity with regards to our cities, how it manages its waste, and what implications that holds for our green earth. 

United Nations estimates peg cities to consume 78% of the planet’s energy resources – additionally, our urban centres are responsible for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. What’s shocking about these figures is that the fact that cities only account for a meagre 2% of our planet’s landmass. That’s miniscule. Estimates forecast that an additional 2.5 billion persons will dwell in our urban centres by the year 2050, a mere three decades from now. 90% of this population will be cities in Africa and Asia – the planet’s most populated continents. If we want to tackle climate change, we need to begin with our cities. 

It is common knowledge that recycling is the procedure of gathering and processing waste materials – and then converting them into brand new products. The advantages are clear: minimize the quantity of waste, preserve our natural resources (which, surprise, are finite) and perhaps most importantly of all, conserve energy. Some less overt advantages can influence the bottom line of our enterprises. Recycling and reuse of materials within our cities can facilitate the manufacturing industry, while also improving economic security. 

Let’s observe an instance, shall we? In the Houston area, located in the State of Texas, construction materials contribute to approximately 38% of the waste content. A majority of this could be converted and reused. The answer: circularity and reuse of materials when constructing our cities. By saving the resources till they can be leveraged by community groups, valuable materials can avoid the fate of landfills. This is where the Building Materials Reuse Warehouse steps in, a part of the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Dept. This not-for-profit entity takes in materials from citizens, supply companies and construction entities, and makes it readily available for reuse. 

Initiatives such as these are amazing and a step in the right direction, but what if we could take this to the next level? What if we could actually leverage the material, return it, upcycle, and reuse it for the cause of new constructions? What if we could move tech development and resource innovation forward to develop a more circular, sustainable, smart city? Let’s delve deeper into what this might look like. 

The Acceleration Consortium brings together the education industry, businesses, and the state to develop pre-competitive technologies for artificial intelligence-based laboratories for pre-competitive resources and molecular applications. The Consortium will tackle basic hurdles within deep learning algorithms and materials modelling, and practical matters of robotic control. 

Consortium researches are also concentrating on materials and molecule discovery for a broad array of applications, from sustainable tech to drug discovery. Here are a few spheres they are concentrating on: 

  • Eco-friendly materials: Biodegradable recyclable polymers, plastics, and fabrics developed from the ground up for the cause of the circular economy. 
  • Transport and construction: Eco-friendly cement with a reduced carbon footprint, and lighter, more robust, corrosion-proof alloys and composites. 
  • Renewable, clean energy: Materials for energy production and organic flow batteries for large-scale energy storage.  

This is just a sample of the work being carried out in materials science and engineering. We are witnessing the rise of criticality with regards to biodiversity, which accounts for the complicated and vital components of our earth. Some instances consist of species diversity, genetic diversity, ecosystem diversity, and functional diversity. When discussing this in the context of our cities, it is critical to identify restoring and improving biodiversity as being vital to enabling our cities to develop resilience in the wake the of the international climate crisis. 

If we fail in this crucial mission, the consequences could be grave and drastic. We will witness ongoing infrastructure failures, power outages, food and resource scarcity, and other catastrophic disasters which are the inevitable outcome of climate change. This will influence exertion on the financial resources of our cities, and more importantly, lives will be lost. Hurricanes, forest fires, and other inclement events are only picking up pace, causing more casualties that ever before in human history. This is only the start – we are arguably, perhaps indisputably at a pivotal point in our history, one that could bring about a paradigm shift, or spell our eventual doom. If we don’t start making changes now, our cities will witness the consequences of this crisis. We need to make the shift towards circularity today, and if not, as soon as possible, and it begins with our urban centres. 

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