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Industrial ecology at the Big Bend Spiegelman, Jonah Z.

Abstract

Metropolitan areas around the world face serious choices about the manner in which development should proceed. The widely agreed upon goal of sustainable development has yet to truly reconcile the desire for industrial development with the need for ecological integrity. Industrial ecology (IE) is a framework that aims to mitigate the environmental impacts of industrial development through the integration of industrial processes to maximize resource productivity and minimize pollution emission. Invoking an ecological metaphor, IE describes 'industrial ecosystems' that minimize their flows of material and energy, optimize their design configuration, and exploit the positive behavioral interactions among their constituents. This thesis reviews the industrial ecology literature and takes it further by linking IE with the theory of complex thermodynamic systems in an attempt to deepen the metaphor upon which it rests. If industrial systems are to be modeled after ecological systems, what characteristics of ecosystems should be emulated, and upon what basis does this assertion lie? The answers to these questions constitute my contribution to IE theory, highlight the crucial role of context that remains underemphasized in the literature, and strengthen the overall legitimacy of the framework. This enhanced theory is then applied to an industrial system in Burnaby, BC, at the center of which is a solid waste incinerator. Guided by the IE framework, I gathered data regarding the material and energy flows through the industrial system. This case study demonstrates some characteristics of an eco-industrial system, though the level of integration is generally quite low. The performance of the site is evaluated, and areas of potential improvement are identified. The result is a set of recommendations to facilitate the development of the site into a more fully integrated eco-industrial park that would positively affect the sustainability of the region.

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