University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

John. C. Crittenden
October 19, 2018
John C. Crittenden, NAE, Director of the Brook Byers Institute of Sustainable Systems, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Sustainable Systems, and Hightower Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
Gigatechnology: Developing Sustainable Urban Infrastructure to Solve Gigaton Problems

Gigaton problems refer to those most severe problems challenging humanity, which can often be measured at the “gigaton (billion tons)” scale. For example, the annual world energy consumption is around 12 billion tons of oil equivalent (Gtoe), 80% of that from nonrenewable fossil fuels. The combustion of these fossil fuels emits approximately 29 billion tons (Gton) of CO2. In addition, the world uses more than 79 Gton of materials each year, only about 29% of which are renewable. These gigaton problems call for solutions which can meet the gigaton scale, or gigaton solutions.

Urban centers are the largest complex, adaptive gigatechnology systems that humans create and within which humans manipulate mass and energy. They are the largest infrastructures in which human manipulate matter and energy. Design of more sustainable and resilient urban system can solve the gigaton problems. A new transformative science for gigatechnologies has been established called, ”Infrastructure Ecology,” with new engineering standards, protocols, tools, and workers to apply its laws and rules for building cities that are sustainable, resilient, equitable, and efficient. Analogous to natural ecology, the urban system of systems are combined to produce larger functional wholes, and new properties emerge (e.g., quality of life, air quality, traffic congestion) that were not present or evident at the next level below. By examining the complex interactions among social decision making, economic drivers, (re)development, sustainability metrics, Infrastructure Ecology is being developed to allow stakeholders to design and choose infrastructure solutions that consume fewer resources and generate less waste. And at the same time build infrastructure that creates more wealth and comfort for urban dwellers.

We have been focusing on the development of common metrics, algorithms, principles, standards, frameworks, architectures, units, methods, and vocabulary that are needed to start creating the shared mental models and language of the new science of Infrastructure Ecology (Epistemology). To date, Infrastructure Ecology involves three components to understand, anticipate, and control the emergent properties that result from systems interactions, i.e.:  (1) the creation of the novel infrastructure technology genome, (2) infrastructure integration, and (3) management of complexity for improving adoption of more sustainable infrastructure. The first component is the discovery of the novel infrastructure genome through advanced computing and innovative designs that can lead to a more sustainable nexus among water, energy, transportation, buildings, land use, the socioeconomic environment, etc.  For example, our contribution to the infrastructure technology genome includes: (1) life cycle assessment of decentralized/ centralized water systems combining grey water reclamation, (2) centralized systems and low impact development (LID), (3)  evaluation of the sustainability performance of  decentralized combined cooling heat and power (CCHP) and solar PV to improve energy efficiency and reduce water demand and NOx emissions, and (4) examination of working fluids to improve the coefficient of performance of HVAC systems. Obviously, there are hundreds of other technologies that belong to the infrastructure technology genome and we will discuss some of these technologies and others.

The second component is the development of gigatech platform that allows one to examine the cost, sustainability, resilience, and performance of integrated infrastructures. In the past, we have designed infrastructure in a siloed fashion and this has resulted in suboptimum solutions.  The gigatech platform integrates the technologies to create more sustainable and resilient infrastructure.  Our research includes deciding on interoperability standards that can accommodate the broad array of models now and in the future; building the actual platform that will integrate the models and systems; and creating simulation and data analysis algorithms, visualization and other communication utilities that allow interested parties deep insight into the connection of gigatechnologies and their resultant impacts throughout the system. Our approach involves first specifying a model in a common modeling language (e.g., SysML), and then using software to automate the transformation of the model into federated simulation code.

The third component is the management of inherent complexity for improving the adoption of more sustainable infrastructure. Complexity results from the millions of decisions and interactions of diverse adaptive entities (i.e., citizens, firms, developers, and governments). These decisions and interactions drive the dynamic and evolving interdependence between the urban physical infrastructure and the socioeconomic environment through which it operates. This interdependence leads to the emergence of, among other things, specific land use arrangements, quality of life issues, and carbon footprints.  To manage this complexity, we develop a better understanding of people’s preferences and demands for more sustainable infrastructure designs.  The tools include big data analytic analysis of social media, crowdsourcing based surveys for preference analysis and choice modeling. If we provide a suitable combination of more sustainable features and develop suitable policies to meet their preferences, we have shown that combining technologies increases citizen’s adoption of more sustainable infrastructures. For example, we developed an agent based model that predicts the adoption of LID, and its impact of tax revenue, adoption rate and water use, as a result of several policies. Complexity management also includes novel sustainability and resilience metrics development and application to support decision markings. For example, we have examined the impacts of fractal connectivity of metropolitan area road networks on the urban built environment and found that a high fractal dimension leads to a small-world connectivity. The small-world connectivity leads to sprawl and this increases energy consumption for personal transport. We also developed an approach to include both resilience and sustainability in the design of urban infrastructure. In a sense, we developed a benefit cost analysis not in terms of dollars but in terms of sustainability metrics to identify optimum Sustainability and Resilience Zone.


Prof. John C. Crittenden is the director of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems and a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  He holds the Hightower Chair and is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Environmental Technologies.  Prof. Crittenden received his Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering and his Master’s and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan.  Prof. Crittenden was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2002 and the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2013.  He is the co-holder of five patents and the primary author of the text book, Water Treatment: Principles and Design, now in its third edition.  He is the author more than 200 articles in refereed journal articles, more than 100 book chapters, reports, and symposia and has more than 13,000 citations.

Prof. Crittenden’s current research focus is on sustainable urban infrastructure systems.  His colleagues and he are conducting research on alternative energy technologies, sustainable materials, advanced modeling of urban systems, sustainable engineering pedagogy, and urban form and policy. He also conducts research in various water treatment technologies (e.g., membrane technology, advanced oxidation processes, photocatalytic oxidation, adsorption, etc.) and energy harvesting technologies (photocatalytic water splitting and aqueous phase reforming of biomass).

Time: 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm
Location: Classroom and Business Building (CBB), Room 108

About Elizabeth D. Rockwell

Elizabeth D. Rockwell

A fourth generation Houstonian, Mrs. Rockwell was an Executive Director, Private Client Division of CIBC Oppenheimer Corp. She was widely recognized as an expert in retirement, estate, investment, and tax planning. She was an early proponent of the Keogh and IRA plans, for which she has been nationally recognized.

In 1991, she qualified to be a member of the Million Dollar Round Table as well as the Texas Leaders Round Table. Since 1990 she had authored a monthly column for the Houston Chronicle.

Mrs. Rockwell served as President of the UH College of Business Administration Foundation Board, as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, and was an Executive Professor for the college. She also served as a member of the advisory board of the Health Law and Policy Institute and as a Trustee of the University of Houston System’s Foundation, as well as a member of the UH System’s Planned Giving Council.

Mrs. Rockwell served on the Board of Governors for the Houston Forum, and as a Board member of the American Red Cross, the Greater Houston Women’s Foundation, the University of Houston Alumni Organization, and the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. She was a member of the River Oaks Business Women’s Exchange Club, the National Tax Sheltered Annuity Association, the Texas Association of College Teachers, and the Houston Association of Life Underwriters.

Among her numerous honors, she has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Houston, the Distinguished Alumna Award from the Houston Alumni Organization and from the UH College of Business Administration. Throughout the years she has been recognized for her many achievements by the Education Foundation of Harris County, the Houston Community College System’s Television Station Advisory Council, and the Houston Mayor’s READ Commission.

The Houston Alumni Center is home to the Elizabeth D. Rockwell President’s Suite. In September 1997, the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Career Services Center was opened in the UH College of Business Administration. She endowed the Chair for the Dean of the M.D. Anderson Library.

Mrs. Rockwell was listed in the Who’s Who in the South and Southwest; Who’s Who in finance and Industry; Who’s Who of American Women; and Who’s Who in the World.