Professor Helge Brattebø (NTNU) Sabbatical Leave in Portugal

Prof. Helge BratteboHelge Brattebø is a Full Professor at NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. From 1996 to 2004 he was the Founding Director of NTNU’s Industrial Ecology Programme (IndEcol). In 2004 an international expert committee concluded IndEcol has become “a world leading academic program” in Industrial Ecology. This was partly because NTNU launched the world’s first programs leading to an MSc (1998) and to a PhD (2003) degree in Industrial Ecology, and partly due to the comprehensive and strongly interdisciplinary activity, with a group of PhD students and PostDoc fellows growing towards a stable level of about 20 people. In 2006 and 2008 the EESD Observatory ranked NTNU N.º 1 and 2 among 50 European universities, respectively, for its high level in Engineering Education for Sustainable Development, much on the basis of the achievements of IndEcol.

Professor Helge Brattebø teaches Environmental Engineering, Waste Management and Industrial Ecology, and he is Director of NTNU’s International MSc in Industrial Ecology Programme. In research he started his carrier working on processes for water and wastewater treatment. His current research is on Industrial Ecology and Environmental Systems Analysis, applied to explore the sustainability of infrastructure and urban systems (incl. waste recycling, urban water systems, road bridges, building stocks, and district heating). This research includes model development, dynamic simulation and systems analysis of material, energy and waste flows, as well as their consequences with respect to emissions, environment and cost.

Being a Full Professor at NTNU he has the opportunity to take a sabbatical leave every 7 years. After a first sabbatical at Yale University (2003-04) he chose IST, Taguspark, and the MIT Portugal Program to spend his current sabbatical.

Why did you choose the MIT Portugal Program to spend your sabbatical this time?

I’ve heard about this Program and it is, indeed, special, mainly for three reasons: i) There is a selection of new research areas of extremely high relevance to society, ii) They are framed with a strong emphasis in systems thinking in order to better examine how to meet these challenges, and iii) The program has its main focus on the researchers of tomorrow; skilled young people now working on their MSc and PhD thesis in close contact with experts in Portugal and at MIT.

My motivations were the MPP research in the areas of energy and urban metabolism, and the possibility to improve knowledge and skills in this area. I’m also trying to model and understand the infrastructures of urban systems and how they behave and perform over time. MPP’s activities on energy and urban metabolism are very well suited to my interests, and in the next years I would like to advance my research within the long-term challenges of urban systems. I believe it is important to examine more in depth some critical questions like: What is the environmental performance of urban infrastructure (water, waste, transport, energy)? What are the material and energy metabolism of such systems? What are the ageing phenomena and ageing problems of such systems? On this basis, how can we best develop sustainable design and technologies for urban infrastructures, and how can they adapt to climate changes? IST and MIT are contributing a lot to this area and play a major role in addressing society problems with innovative approaches.

Within MPP in what kind of projects are you involved?

My role would be more like a discussion partner trying to understand and influence how the MPP is going to adjust its research activities for the next years. I am also involved as co-supervisor of one PhD-student, and with Professor Paulo Ferrao and Dr. Samuel Niza I develop proposals for new joint research projects.

What do you find about Portuguese students?

In the MPP I found a great amount of talent with new ways of thinking on how to face problems. High quality research is being developed by young and bright people, who will offer new solutions to respond to problems and needs in an ever more urbanized world. Therefore, there is great potential to develop activities and crossing projects through new ideas, discussion, competition, and involving people that work in a more clever way. I believe that one of the Program’s underlying promises, systems thinking, has been responded to in a good way.

In your opinion what kind of impact will the MPP have in Portugal’s social and economic development?

There is an enormous potential for impact. The investment in talent - recruiting the best applicants from a large number of countries, and giving them the opportunity to explore scientific research, and build a contact network and giving them access to MIT resources. MPP also has a different approach: crossing methods and the investment in systems analysis skills of young people. These young people will be successful leaders of tomorrow, paying back to Portugal and many other countries in terms of their competence and international network. In the long run, this is a very high potential strategy and represents major opportunities for science, research, technology, economy and society.

In the short run, if we wish to have success we must bring leaders in business and industry to more actively guide (co-supervise) what is being done - we need to create greater collaboration among these entities.

Once your sabbatical ends will you stay connected with the program? How?

I certainly hope so! In practice this can be achieved by developing further our ideas so that people in Norway and Portugal can work closely together on funded projects, such as from EU7FP, to combine methods that allow us to understand the urban metabolism, how it performs and develops. Some few weeks ago I was also elected Board Member of the newly founded Sustainable Urban Systems section of the International Society for Industrial Ecology. This will give me lots of opportunities for contact and collaboration with MPP on how to improve and develop research in terms of strategies for urban systems thinking, and to complement present experiences and competences between MPP and other leading research groups worldwide.

Are you enjoying your stay in Lisbon?

I just love the Portuguese coffee, food, wine and music (Mariza, Amalia Rodrigues, Camané…), but I also have to call attention to the convenience of public transportation. Your metro system is just excellent. And of course, I have really learned to appreciate the old culture, the architecture and the spirit of the people of Lisbon. Do you want more…? The high quality of many of your museums, the wonderful Gulbenkian Music programme, the narrow streets of Alfama, and not to forget (of course!) the endless weeks of sunshine and high temperatures, which is always like a dream for a Norwegian!