Randolph E. Kirchain is Co-Director of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub. His research focuses on the environmental and economic implications of materials selection. The choice of material potentially has sweeping implications on the realization of a product. Materials affect not only properties, but also dictate available production processes, and therefore the physical constraints within which a designer must work. Similarly, the synergism of design, materials, and process affect the environmental impacts associated with a product’s manufacture, its use, and its ultimate disposal. As such, understanding the implications of a material selection decision requires understanding throughout the design and production systems.
To address this, Kirchain’s research deals with two broad topic areas: 1) the development of methods to model the cost of manufacture, using limited design information and 2) the sustainability of current and emerging materials systems. To these ends, Kirchain has focused on automotive manufacturing systems, including working on projects for all three major automobile manufacturers. These projects include extensive study of the functioning of the system for reclaiming materials from end-of-life vehicles. The specific focus of this work has been to understand the economic implications of changing vehicle composition and emerging policy strictures on the successful operation of this system.