NEWS RELEASE JULY 2015
Environmental and Energy Knowledge Gap
The best environmental and energy decisions are often not being chosen. The knowledge gap is not because of retirements but due to the avalanche of new information.
“The experienced people are retiring and their replacements lack the critical knowledge for decision making.” This is a widely held belief which places blame on the new recruits. The real problem is that the new recruit is accessing a knowledge base ten times larger than that faced by the previous generation. If he continues to use the decision making tools of the previous generation, the knowledge gap will only grow.
The assertion that we are losing net experience does not hold up under scrutiny. Asia is graduating large numbers of engineers. The many environmental and energy projects around the world are providing direct experience for hundreds of thousands of workers. The ratio of electrical to mechanical, civil and chemical engineers may be increasing; but so is the need for software, automation and smart valves and pumps.
Chinese power plants are now operating more ultra supercritical boilers and more air pollution control systems than the United States, Germany and Japan combined. In just two decades, the Chinese have achieved what took five decades in the big three user countries. So the knowledge gap cannot be blamed on lack of experienced engineers.
How serious is the knowledge gap? The answer is that the glass is half empty rather than half full. We are doing better than the previous generation but we are failing to maximize the available knowledge and move forward much faster and more economically. We should have air pollution control systems which achieve higher efficiency at lower cost. There should be no visible steam plumes which indicate lost heat and water.
Recovery of fertilizers, solvents, building materials and even rare earths from our environmental and energy systems are all possible. Sewage treatment and power plants should be co-located for many synergistic benefits. Better materials selection should greatly increase equipment life. Smart products and automation should lead to whole new ways to operate and maintain plants.
How do we take advantage of the knowledge explosion? Here are the building blocks of recommended change:
- Organize knowledge to minimize the loss from retirees
- Foster niche expertise
- Change the ways we access and use knowledge
McIlvaine is building these blocks one area at a time. Areas can be defined as industries or technologies. The present industry focus is on the power industry with two knowledge systems. One is focused on coal-fired power plants and another on gas turbines. The first technology focus is on filtration and its use in every industry including power plant wastewater treatment and gas turbine air inlet filters but also on food, oil and gas, etc.
Here are the key deliverables in each area:
- Comprehensive knowledge systems offered at modest cost to suppliers and consultants and at no cost to end users.
- Operating systems with the 4As: Alerts, Answers, Analysis and Advancement.
- Coordination among organizations, e.g. for gas turbine intake housings. McIlvaine, American Filtration Society, International Filtration News, KCI (Stainless Steel World) and Combined Cycle Journal are coordinating relative to articles, conferences, etc.
For more information on the two power knowledge systems, click on
Gas Turbine and Combined Cycle Decisions