Universitat de Girona, LEPAMAP-PRODIS Research Group (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN21 Proceedings
Publication year: 2021
Pages: 3139-3145
ISBN: 978-84-09-31267-2
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2021.0666
Conference name: 13th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 5-6 July, 2021
Location: Online Conference
New educational strategies are nowadays required in the mark of universities to promote environmental awareness and care. Engineers are called to take active part in the transition towards a more sustainable context in crucial issues such as materials’ processing, product design, and eventual use and disposal of products. However, such educational transition is not as straightforward as it may seem, since the engineering curricula has a full quota of content, and time must be spent on designing new curses that integrate such knowledge, in addition to training teachers to effectively translate such knowledge to the classroom. Consequently, this work attempts to introduce sustainability to engineering students via short educational experiences which are at the same time challenging, engaging, and useful. Recently, much research has been devoted to investigating nanoscale materials, typically referred to as nanomaterials. In this field, cellulose nanofibers (CNFs) are a type of nanomaterial which is completely biobased and biodegradable and can be used in a wealth of applications such as high barrier packaging materials, electronic devices, medicine, cosmetics, health care, and as strengthening additive in paper or plastic composites. Advantageously, the production of CNFs is visually attractive and not overly complicated, which makes it reproducible at university scale.

LEPAMAP+PRODIS research group from Universitat de Girona developed a demonstrative experience addressed to third-year chemical engineering students where the participants could interact hand-to-hand with the whole production process of CNFs, observe the different processing techniques, evaluate its potential in the paper and board field, and use specific CNFs characterization tools. The experience could be divided in three main objectives, being:
(i) rise of environmental conscientious amongst students through engaging experience,
(ii) learn through direct participation with the process and equipment, and
(iii) acquisition of theoretical skills and knowledge related to sustainability.

The success of the experience was evaluated via the direct supervision of the teacher, a brief theoretical test and finally a satisfactory survey to consult the students’ opinions on the activity.

The experience resulted satisfactory and the interest shown by the students throughout the whole activity is highlighted. Working with CNFs was found with enthusiasm and helped the students acquire the skills and knowledge taught during the activity, though, more global aspects related to sustainability such as circular economy or single-use plastics were sometimes difficult to handle or even unknown, evidencing the clear lack in the curricula towards such issues.
Sustainability education, educational experience, chemical engineering degree, cellulose nanofibers.