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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

A Framework for air pollution and its consequences in some cities in Chile

Despite the importance that firewood has in the Chilean energy matrix, it is not regulated by Chilean legislation. Consequently, this fuel is mostly produced, distributed and sold by informal trades, which do not control its quality and moisture content. As a result, the wood smoke released by the heaters has a high level of particulate matters (PM10 and PM2.5) among other toxic pollutants. These cause severe consequences for people’s health, the environment, society and the economy. It is estimated that every year around 4,000 people die prematurely due to respiratory illnesses associated with chronic PM2.5 exposure. The overall aim of this dissertation was to develop the foundations, the structure and general guidelines for proposing a strategic wood smoke reduction plan for dealing with this critical situation. A deep understanding of the problem is crucial for the success of a proposal. This dissertation makes an extensive study of relevant literature to understand the status quo framework for the air pollution, its causes, drivers and consequences. Based on that information, a cognitive mapping was developed to identify key aspects of the air pollution framework, the relationship between its drivers and the main aspects of the problem that would be faced with a decontamination plan. As a result, this research produced a number of key findings: i) firewood market, people behaviour & culture, market for heaters and policies & regulation are the main drivers of the problem; ii) lack of education, energy efficiency knowledge, regulation and control are the main causes of the air pollution problem; and iii) education, regulation and strong institution are the logical foundations for a future decontamination plan. Also, it was possible to conclude that the wood smoke is a transversal problem, which affects all of the socioeconomic status, the urban and rural population, spanning different cultures and regions. Therefore, this problem must be faced through integrated planning, involving all the edges of the Chilean society. It is necessary to develop an environmental management plan to avoid depleting the native forest and irreversible damage to society, flora and fauna.  Further research is recommended on economics, policies, technologies, and sociology fields of the problem.
Key words: air pollution, wood smoke, firewood, heaters, cognitive mapping and decontamination plan.

Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.