The field of engineering has gifted civilization with amenities that bridge the gap between research and real life. Those engineering feats that overcome existing challenges, demonstrate pioneering design, and contribute to humanity are considered engineering marvels, while those that adhere to the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges for the 21st Century might be ranked among today’s best.
Viaduc de Millau
The tallest bridge in the world is a testament to functionality and aesthetics. To overcome traffic issues between Paris and Spain, it was decided to construct a bridge that would rise above the Tarn River Valley, linking two limestone plateaus inside the perimeter of France’s Grands Causses regional natural park with a cable stayed bridge, providing a direct route for vehicle traffic that was visually as unobtrusive as possible. Construction of the Viaduc de Millau resulted in both the highest pylons in the world (803ft and 725ft), overtopping the record previously held by Germany’s Kochertal Viaduct (594ft), and at 1,125ft, the world’s tallest bridge tower. Incredibly, it was completed under budget and ahead of schedule, opening to traffic in 2004.
Three Gorges Dam
The largest and most powerful hydroelectric project in the world is also the most controversial. Classified as a concrete gravity dam, the Three Gorges Dam forms a straight barrier across China’s Yangtze River providing flood control, and, at full operational power, generating 22.5 GWh. The dam itself is 610ft high and 1.3 miles wide, with wall thickness ranging from 131ft at the top to 377ft at the base. The resulting reservoir extends 400miles upstream when the river is at its maximum level of 574ft above sea level. Completed in 2006, the dam has the potential to produce incredible amounts of energy for China’s growing population; however, experts have speculated whether financial, human, and environmental costs outweigh any benefit.
juwi Group Headquarters
Arguably the most energy efficient building in the world, the headquarters of Wörrstadt, Germany based renewable energy firm juwi Group generates more energy than it consumes. Completed in 2010, its use of solar carports and south facing solar modules and cells, combined with onsite photovoltaic plants, complete the energy circuit; a summer energy surplus is stored in a backup battery system. Heat from naturally sourced wood pellets is burned in a CO2 neutral manner, while the windows and walls are insulated to the standards of a passive home; a highly efficient ventilation system contributes to the buildings’ low energy demands. A fire sprinkler system doubles as a piped in floor cooling system that reduces air temperatures inside the buildings by 5 degrees. Even the natural water cycle is incorporated into juwi’s design, as rain water is collected in a cistern for use in the toilets.
Singapore’s Deep Tunnel Sewerage System
One of the world’s largest and most innovative water solution systems was officially launched in 2009. The Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) is designed to collect, treat, and redistribute water from Singapore’s growing population by conveying up to 176 million gallons of gray water per day through a 30 mile long deep tunnel sewer that runs to the Changi Water Reclamation Plant. The tunnel works entirely by gravity, eliminating the need for pumping stations, freeing up valuable land in this highly populated region. Gray water passes through a series of high efficiency treatment processes at the plant before the treated effluent is either discharged out to sea, or sent for further purification at Singapore’s reclaimed NEWater Factory.
Sam Goren is an engineering manager and guest author at www.engineering-management.net, a site with guides and resources to assist prospective students in evaluating top-rated engineering management degree programs online.