Natural Resources Management

by Adriano Bandeira, Brazil, ELP 2014

If there is a subject I really like writing about, this subject is Natural Resources Management. It may seem weird writing about such a technical topic, but at the end of this article (if I succeed) I think it will be possible to understand the role of Natural Resources Management in the near future. Before presenting two examples, let’s review some concepts about nonrenewable and renewable resources.

In general, nonrewable resources are those that cannot be created or are created under a very small rate. Coal and oil are the two most known examples but all the minerals belong to this category as well. When the resource has an intrinsic rate of growth in an economic scale, it is called a renewable resource.

Thus, the resources exploration should take place, considering the characteristics of each resource. Let’s go through examples. The first one deals with rice crops and coal mining being explored in the same river basin at the South of the Santa Catarina, a Brazilian state. Acid mining drainage (the effluent discharged by mines) runs into rivers, contaminating the water that should be used to irrigate rice crops. There are three resources directly involved: coal, rice and water. I will not bring equations to the discussion, but I can assure you that it is possible, with some aid from mathematics, to build a strategy to allocate water between the other two activities so that the total income of the river basin area can be maximized. This study took place in the period 2007-2010 and showed that we could use less than 50% of the river flow with a reduction of less than of 9.55% of the total income, while maintaining water quality, according to Brazilian legislation. The reduction is due to the costs of effluent treatment and the limit of water available to irrigate rice crops. It is important to emphasize that such a reduction could be compensated by new economic activities.

The last example is related to biofuels. It is widely known that there should be a transition to a low carbon economy. In this case, fossil fuels should be replaced by biofuels in the long run. This project aims to build a mathematical model to plan this transition in the Brazilian Civil Aviation sector. Again, with mathematical aid, we think it is possible to replace progressively the part of the fossil fuels used by planes. The model should also consider the evolution of fossil fuel-based planes and the less energetic content of biofuels in order to evaluate the most important conditions required by the transition process. However, planning the amount of natural resources necessary to make the transition could inspire others sectors to do so.

So, the importance of natural resources management may range from surface water quality to climate change. In my opinion, natural resource managers will soon be required to be professionals in the highly qualified workers’ market.