Winter School 2019: On becoming a Researcher

This blog was provided by Li Anne Cheah, a PhD student at the Heriot-Watt University, whose attendance at the 2019 Winter School was supported by the UK CCS Research Centre (UKCCSRC). The 2019 winter school took place in the Halifax Hall, Sheffield from 12th to 14th February. The researchers involved, ranging from 1st year PhD/EngD students to research fellow, were from the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in CCS and Cleaner Fossil Energy and UKCCSRC. The main goal of the school is to help the development of interdisciplinary knowledge exchange to apply research in the field of the energy sector and carbon capture and storage (CCS). In addition to that, students are expected to acquire transferable skills such as networking, communication and professional practice skills.

The first programme of the winter school starts at 10:30am. So being a traveller from Edinburgh, my plan was to catch the earliest train at 6am (takes almost 4hours) and expect no delay in traffic within the city of Sheffield (optimistically thinking). No question why I received an extra night stay when I propose the travel plan to the sponsorship officer. But thanks to that – I have the chance to take a short walk at the beautiful Sheffield botanical garden shortly before the conference.

The School started with a warm welcome from Prof. Colin Snape, the director of EPSRC Centre of Doctoral Training in CCS and Cleaner Fossil Energy, followed by Dr. Robin Irons, the associate professor at the University of Nottingham who shared us an overview of the UK energy shift in 2019. Energy storage is a pressing issue now due to the increasing demand to generate energy from intermittent renewables energy and further development is vital to ensure energy security in the era of extreme climates. The Anticyclone Hartmut, or more commonly known as the “Beast from the East” was cited here because of the disruption caused due to heavy snow and a sharp rise in power demands as temperatures plummeted.

Two representatives from the Environmental Agency – Andy Barker and Lucy Snape, informed the latest updates, regulations and the societal response surrounding fracking. Dr. Mai Bui, from the Clean Fossil and Bioenergy Research Group (CleanFaB) presented her new review paper on CCS. Scientists are shifting their focus into negative emission technologies (NETs) such as Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and Direct Air Capture (DAC). One key message that I understood from here is that CCS techniques are becoming more matured and provided more routes to decarbonize the industry. In other words, we may not need a one-size fit all answer for CCS. All carbon-emitting sectors, at different scales and locations in the globe, may require different approaches to reduce the emissions. The session closed with an interactive career talk with Vince Pizzoni, Associate Professor and Career Coach at the University of Nottingham.

Day one in winter school ended with a rewarding dinner. This is perhaps one of my most memorable parts of the school. Not (only) because of the food, but because of the academics and industrial mentors were just sitting right next to us the whole evening. We discussed from food to travel, to career path choices.

The second day of winter school started with poster presentations from second-year Students. A short description of their work is expected and receives feedback from all attendees and industrial mentors. I presented my poster titled on “Layered Double Hydroxides: a systematic approach to investigate the effect of Mg: Al ratio on CO2 capture capacity”. What I find very motivating is that even though not all the attendees were from the background of CCS, however, they are very keen to learn your project and happily share their research knowledge. In addition to that, the industrial mentors were also willing to provide feedback and guidance to complement the research ideas. My to-do-list was updated with new items at the end of the presentation.

The session then continued with Prof. Jon Gibbins, the director of UK CCS Research Centre, giving his insights on some practical considerations for the deployment of CCS and followed by Philip Sharman, the director of International Flame Research Foundation (IFRF) on the new generation combustion technologies. Third-year presentations then fill in the rest of the day three.