Sustainicum Collection

Consus The aim of the project is to establish a regional science-society network for sustainability innovations in Albania and Kosovo in order to strengthen the connection and collaboration of institutions in the field of higher education, research and practice.

Resource facts

  • Independent of the number of students
  • Up to 3 lecture units
  • Internet connection necessary
  • English, German

Resource Description

Instruction file

Additional attachments

Optimal regional technology network based on renewable resources – RegiOpt-CP(Resource ID: 115)

Utilising renewable resources optimally in a regional context poses a complex challenge. Technical, ecological, logistical and ethical questions have to be addressed simultaneously in order to arrive at sustainable solutions. With the help of the software RegiOpt-CP students can design optimal technology networks on the base of regional renewable resources and fulfilling regional demands for energy and food while generating optimal value added for the region. Ecological evaluation of the solutions with the SPI® (Sustainable Process Index, a method to calculate the Ecological Footprint) and the Carbon Footprint is integral part of the software. In addition to that students are provided with hints regarding the ethical implications of use of renewable resources.

RegiOpt-CP calculates an (economically) optimised technology network utilising renewable resources in the context of real regions. It evaluates the optimal solutions in economic terms (with regard to costs, regional value added as well as import-export balance) and ecologically, using the encompassing concept of the Sustainable Process Index as well as the climate change oriented Carbon Footprint. Students may generate scenarios that change the economic and land use framework but may also calculate the impact of life style changes.

RegiOpt-CP bases its calculation on user supplied data about regional land use (field acreage, Greenland and forests), energy demand from households, industry and business. It generates interlinked technology networks that utilise these resources economically optimal while meeting the regional demand. It takes existing utilisations of renewable resources (e.g. existing animal stocks or existing energy provision on the base of renewable resources) into account and factors in the necessary resource requirements to sustain nutrition for the regional population.

The technology portfolio provided by the software includes all technologies that are currently regarded as state of the art in utilising different kinds of biomass and biogenic residues as well as direct technologies (PV and thermal solar panels) as well as wind power. Energy efficiency technologies such as insulation of buildings are also included. Transport from sites of generation of resources to utilisation sites as well as region specific yields of crops and costs and revenues for resources and products can be supplied by the user according to the regional context. The students are able to optimise the technology network subject to limitations regarding the available investment capital, taking contextual economic boundary conditions into account.

RegiOpt-CP is designed to support discursive planning processes with active participation of actors. Sustainable development does not lend itself to patent solutions but requires a deep and complex societal change. This change is only possible on the base of comprehensive and active participation of all involved actors. RegiOpt therefore invites students to generate and simultaneously evaluate scenarios reflecting different views of actors about the framework of the future development of their region. It is also meant as a tool to support students in trans-disciplinary projects with real-world regional actors.

The current software RegiOpt-CP (Conceptual Planner) encompasses three sections:

  • Data input by the user

  • Calculation of the economically optimal technology network

  • Ecological evaluation of the solution.

It is the objective of RegiOpt-CP to provide students (and regional stakeholders) with technology networks that optimise the value added to the whole region and compare these solutions with the status quo in the region with regard to economic benefit and ecological impact.

The tool calculates capacities, raw material flows and resource costs (including transport), operating costs as well as investment costs for all technical installations within an optimal regional technology network. It will provide a comparison of the status quo with the calculated solution in terms of ecological impact (using the SPI as well as the Carbon Footprint). RegiOpt-CP will also supply a comparison of the import and export of value as well as ecological pressure of the current situation and the calculated solution.

The first step when using RegiOpt-CP students will be guided through a six page on-line questionair to provide the necessary data for generating the technology network. It comprises data on regional life style, energy demand and provision of renewable resources as well as economic data. It is recommended that students use a checklist supplied with the tool to collect data prior to starting the software. RegiOpt-CP will perform calculations conditioning the user input for the optimisation simultaneously with the input process, summarising at each step the result of these calculations in order to allow the user to check the validity of the input as well as providing ethical hints when appropriate.

On the base of the completed input questionair RegiOpt-CP will start the optimisation procedure. Optimisation is performed using the method of Process Network Synthesis (PNS) in the background.

PNS is a method to generate network structures linking mass and energy flows with technologies that alter these flows. It optimises both the structure of the network of technologies and the flows linking them and generating products and services in the end. The method is based on the P-Graph method that generates a maximum structure (i.e. the structure encompassing all feasible links of resources, technologies within the given portfolio and products and services fulfilling the user supplied boundary conditions and framework)1. From this maximum structure the the program will determine the optimal structure using a branch-and-bound mixed integer non-linear programming routine. The target function for optimisation is the revenue for the whole system, factoring in depreciation of investment (10 years for all technologies with the exception to PV and solar thermal panels where it is assumed to be 25 years). Mass and energy balances for all technologies regarding resources, intermediate products, auxiliary materials and products are fulfilled by the optimisation.

RegiOpt-CP uses a pre-defined technology portfolio as a base for the maximum structure. Mass and energy balances of the technologies in this portfolio are defined by default values that may be overridden by user supplied input. The user may also directly alter the maximum structure by switching off resources, crops, technologies as well as products and services that are either not available or do not make sense within the regional context. The result of the optimisation will provide a technology network that fulfils all user supplied requirements (e.g. food, heat and electricity demand of the region) including transport of resources based on the resources the user indicated for utilisation (the user may restrict available resources in order to support other utilisation paths (e.g. businesses such as pulp & paper or furniture production that also draw on wood resources) providing the highest value added for the whole system.

In a further step the software will evaluate in the background the solution reached by optimisation as well as the status quo in terms of ecological pressure based on the SPI.

The SPI is a method to calculate ecological footprints that takes emissions to air, water and soil besides resource provision into account. The method compares anthropogenic and natural flows according to the following sustainability critera1:

Principle 1: Anthropogenic mass flows must not alter global material cycles;

Principle 2: Anthropogenic mass flows must not alter the quality of local environmental compartments.

The SPI is a tool based on these criteria and is compatible to the modus operandi described in the ISO 14000 standard for life cycle assessment. It calculates ecological pressures for all technologies from the generation of their resources to the emission the whole life cycle generates until providing the product or service in question. It aggregates different ecological pressures to one number; this single number is the area necessary to embed a process or service sustainable into the ecosphere, in accordance with the tenets of the concept of “strong sustainability” that requires sustainable development to be based on the natural income rather than allowing for unrestricted substitution of different kinds of natural and human capital. As the natural income of our planet is mainly the energy radiated from the sun to the surface of our world, human (and natural!) processes will compete for “surface” as the basic resource to utilise this natural income. This is the normative background of all Ecological Footprint calculations and also of the SPI. In addition to that the SPI also takes the quality of life supporting ecological compartments (soil atmosphere and water) into account as degradation in their quality will diminish the ability to utilise our natural income. It therefore focuses on aspects of environmental sustainability based on material and energy fluxes that processes exchange with their environments. The corresponding data for natural systems are the sedimentation rate of carbon in oceans, the natural concentrations of substances in soil and water, the exchange rates per area unit of airborne pollutants between forests and air as well as the replenishment rates for soil and water.

The SPI allows for comparison between different technologies and especially assists in the comparison of processes based on fossil raw materials to those based on renewable resources. The results of the footprint calculations are broken down into partial footprints for direct area consumption, fossil resource consumption, renewable resource consumption and emissions to air, water and soil.

Using the results for fossil resource consumption calculated by the SPI evaluation RegiOpt-CP will calculate the Carbon Footprint as an auxiliary measure to discuss the specific climate change impact of the technology network as well as the status quo. By using the same data base for the SPI and the Carbon Footprint RegiOpt-CP guarantees compatibility of both evaluations.

RegiOpt-CP offers a quick and reliable overview on utilisation pathways for renewable resources within regional context. By providing optimised results for every scenario calculated by students it can show complex interrelations between different factors influencing the use of renewable resources and can also support them in trans-disciplinary projects integrating education and participatory planning processes on the regional level.  

Learning Outcomes
The objective of RegiOpt-CP is to provide students with insight of the utilisation of renewable resources within regional contexts by providing them with a tool to generate economically optimal technology networks and evaluating them in ecological terms as well as with regard to the exchange of the region with the global society and environment. RegiOpt-CP will also add to ethical sensibilisation of students and support them in trans-disciplinary projects in real-world regions.
Relevance for Sustainability
Students will be exposed to possibilities to utilise renewable resources within regional contexts. They will learn to see ecological sustainability assessment as an integral part of any regional planning process and also to look at regions as inherently linked to and in exchange with the global ecological systems and economy. The ethical hints given by the calculator help students to understand implications of decisions taken at the regional level within the larger concept of sustainable development and its requirement for inter and intra generational equity.
Students will also learn that changes in the life style on the concrete regional base may have decisive impact on the sustainability of regions but also on their ability to utilise their resources optimally.
Related Teaching Resources
No specific previous knowledge / related resources required
Preparation Efforts
Sources and Links

Friedler F, Varga JB, Fan LT Decision-mapping: a tool for consistent and complete decisions in process synthesis. Chemical Engineering Science Vol. 50, (1995), 1755-1768

Krotscheck, C., M. Narodoslawsky, 1996. The Sustainable Process Index - A new Dimension in Ecological Evaluation. Ecological Engineering 6/4 (1996) pp. 241-258.

Narodoslawsky M. and C. Krotscheck, 2000. Integrated ecological optimization of processes with the sustainable process index. Waste Management 20:599-603

Funded by
Funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research within the framework of the call "Projekt MINT-Massenfächer" (2011/12)

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Prof. Michael Narodoslawsky


Michael Eder
This teaching resource is allocated to following University:
TUG - Graz University of Technology


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