Politecnico di Torino
Politecnico di Torino
Politecnico di Torino
Academic Year 2017/18
Energy, progress and sustainability
1st degree and Bachelor-level of the Bologna process in Energy Engineering - Torino
1st degree and Bachelor-level of the Bologna process in Biomedical Engineering - Torino
1st degree and Bachelor-level of the Bologna process in Mechanical Engineering - Torino
Teacher Status SSD Les Ex Lab Tut Years teaching
Leone Pierluigi   O2 ING-IND/10 39 21 0 0 5
SSD CFU Activities Area context
ING-IND/10 6 D - A scelta dello studente A scelta dello studente
Subject fundamentals
Everything that happens in the universe can be related to energy flows.
Huge and continuous amounts of energy invested and shaped our planet since its formation, nearly five billion years ago, changing it up to the condition we know today. The most intense come in order of magnitude from the Sun, from the Earth's core and from the Moon. The complex processes of transformation brought about conditions favorable to the formation of biological life that evolved into an enormous variety of species. A unique case in the universe, as we know today.
Only recently in one of the branches of the life evolution appeared the human species, notably the only one that has gained the full development of consciousness and intelligence, foundations of the birth and of the progress of civilization.
Ever since men became sentient beings, developed many skills including the ability to generate and control energy flows higher than those strictly necessary to sustain their biological life.
It was a skill crucial to the development of human civilization, and today we study the history of humankind as well as telling the time, men have become able to control increasing amounts of energy.
In the contemporary era, however, continues to increase the number of people who believe that the responsibility of the serious phenomena conventionally called "energy crisis", dependent on the use of large amounts of uncontrolled energy.
The countless and ever clearly visible scientific historical and geopolitical evidence suggest that the growing use of energy, inevitably inherent in the development irrepressible and seemingly unstoppable technological and industrial civilization, can damage and sometimes even affect the functionality of the ecological niche that guarantees the existence of living beings, and with them that of the human species. The debate which phenomena could be lethal for the human species has expanded from the limited area of the specialists to all players in civil societies, often with opposing opinions.
The importance of the issue, it behooves all men to question and understand whether the benefits arising from technological developments which are commensurate with the problems that according to some generate.
The engineers, the scientists, the policy-makers, more than the other citizens of the world, have the moral duty to analyze this problem. In fact, since they are responsible for the design, the construction and the management of technological facilities, they must also check whether the negative consequences that are attributed to these works are real and, if so, to take action to avoid or to mitigate them.
For these reasons, mostly ethical, it is desirable to complete the traditional training of future scientists and engineers with the knowledge of the consequences that could result from the improper or uncontrolled use of technology and measures to mitigated or avoid at all them. With this course, we intend to contribute in this direction.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the course, the student will:
1. Master the cultural tools that recognize the mutual relations between energy and the multiplicity of phenomena studied in the basic disciplines of Engineering and Architecture degrees (physics, chemistry, electrical engineering and thermodynamics), thus enabling a holistic and unified learning approach.
2. Consolidate the knowledge that energy flows within and between material bodies are the cause and effect of all events observed in nature, both in inanimate bodies that in living beings.
3. Understand the links of the historical development and the progress of scientific, technological and social aspects of human civilizations with the actual ability of men to gather and use the energy resources on the Earth.
4. Know the structure and the consequences of all those events - environmental, climatic, economic and social - of which attributable to human activities in the contemporary age is given the name of an energy crisis.
5. Realize how the way we use energy has a strong impact on the well-being of all human communities and the progress of their civilization, and that there is an increasing an burden of moral responsibility to scientists and engineers who, through their work, contribute to alter the natural world.
Prerequisites / Assumed knowledge
To understand the course contents and to participate in planned activities with the maximum profit, the student should have attended basic courses in physics, chemistry and thermodynamics.
The concept of energy from the physical and metaphysical standpoint. A critical examination of the cause-effect relationship between the flows and the redistribution of energy and natural phenomena. A brief recall to some of the essential fundamentals of physics and thermodynamics with particular care to the forms of energy and the ways to measure it.
The essential elements of the current debate on whether or not there is an "energy crisis" and on the statement that this is also a crisis of civilization. Importance and interdependence of the critical factors under discussion: adequate availability of energy resources, climate and environment, politics and international geopolitical, economic and financial elements, social relations and unequal conditions of life in our planet.
Energetics of the Planet Earth. Interaction of the Earth with solar radiation. The effects on atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. Gravitational phenomena and tides. Geothermal and seismic effects.
Energetics of biological organisms. Peculiarities of the presence of living organisms and their essential oneness in the multiplicity of species of plants, animals and human. The vulnerability of the conditions of existence of life on our planet.
History of pre-industrial human civilization told through the ways in which men learned to use increasing amounts of energy, a profit making and well-being. The uses in agriculture, the development of prime movers (transportation, manufacturing, metallurgy), construction of buildings and infrastructure and military uses.
The energy in the 20th and 21th century. Reserves and Resources. Exhaustible resources (fossil and nuclear) and renewable energy (sun, water, biomass, wind, waves and tides). Intermediate resources and carriers (electricity, liquid and gaseous fossil fuels, hydrogen). The end uses (housing, processing industries, transport, agriculture and fisheries, military applications).
The critical technology (housing, transportation, access to electricity, environmental protection, industry and agriculture).
Technology perspectives. Thermal and electrical prime movers. The distribution of fuel and electricity. Housing and residential services: the situation in developed countries and in developing countries (DCs), proven and innovative technologies and opportunities for intervention. Surface, water and air transportation. Notes to the generation and distribution of electricity (with fossil and renewable sources), distribution and intelligent networks (Smart Grids).
Possible scenarios and opportunities in the twenty-first century. Examination of the concepts of progress and sustainability. The energy ties with the quality of life, the economy, development, energy poverty and the quality of the environment in relation to the existence of biological life. Ecology and bio-economy. The ecological footprint. Climate policy and energy transitions. The importance of energy efficiency. The conflict between savings and lifestyles. The question of decline.
Myths and realities of the energy issue.
Delivery modes
The teaching units at the disposal of the course include theoretical and practical lectures, the latter on examples explained in class and then developed individually by students in written form.
From the eighth week of the course, each student must prepare a document monograph with a maximum of 20 folders. Teachers help students to choose the argument of the thesis, and will decide whether the thesis can be done individually or by a group with a maximum of 5 people. The evaluation of the document will contribute to the final mark. The judgment on the thesis is built in two phases. Firstly, each student will be involved in a process called public evaluation or grading in the crowd-which will give a rating on the work of a small number of colleagues. Then the teachers will assign the final evaluation.
Some lessons, one to four at most, could be replaced by monographic seminars conducted by external specialists.
Some lessons will be carried out in flipped mode, also using external digital resources; the teacher will moderate the discussion among students about specific topics.
Texts, readings, handouts and other learning resources
SStudents can prepare for the exam on the topics covered in the course following the lectures, supplemented by slides projected during the lessons, studying on the two books:
- Calì M. et al., Guida all’energia nella natura e nelle civiltà umane, Ed. Esculapio, 2014, Bologna (soon available as e-book)
- Smil V., Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems, MIT Press, 2008, Boston.
- Leone P., Calì M., Colombo E., The strange paradox of the world energy question, MOOC course, https://www.pok.polimi.it/
During the course, teachers will distribute notes and documents with the data and the information most significant, and will suggest the reading of articles and books selected to complement the study.
Assessment and grading criteria
The final examination consists of:
• The evaluation of the thesis developed individually or by a group of students to be delivered before the end of the course. Evaluation up to 3 points.
• A written test consisting of a number of questions on the topics covered in the course. The student must answer by choosing between three options of which only one is correct. Evaluation up to 24 points.
• An interview, optional at the discretion of the student, which can be sustained only by those who cumulated 18 points in the two previous evaluations.

Programma definitivo per l'A.A.2017/18

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