News from AAU Energy

Fulbright Scholarship at AAU Energy – Heather Leclerc

Spending a year at AAU Energy as a guest PhD candidate and conducting research in the field of advanced biofuels and hydrothermal liquefaction has been a great experience for Heather Leclerc. A Fulbright fellowship, which will be elaborated later, paved the way for many great experiences, new friends and insights into both interesting research and a different work culture here in Denmark, compared to her home university in USA.

Who are you, and what is your background?

I’m Heather, a PhD candidate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, MA, USA in chemical engineering with a focus on chemical fundamentals. I was born and raised in the US in the northeast, where WPI is.

What do you do at AAU Energy?

At AAU I just completed a year as a guest PhD student in the advanced biofuels group. The goal of my stay was to gain knowledge and expertise in the transition from batch to continuous processing as well as work to remediate wastewater with high organic content from hydrothermal liquefaction.

What has the purpose been?

The purpose of my stay was not only for the benefit of myself but to transfer and share knowledge between research groups. The advanced biofuels group here at AAU and my research group at my home university both occupy the hydrothermal liquefaction and waste to energy space, but approach the problem from different ends of the spectrum.

At AAU, the pilot scale continuous unit in collaboration with Steeper Energy and the primary background in process and energy engineering means that AAU takes a commercialization lens towards HTL, whereas my home university tries to take a step back and uncover the fundamental science that governs the process to understand how to better engineer the large scale process. Both are important to making waste to energy a feasible process, and the transfer of knowledge between groups is very important.

How was it arranged and what is a Fulbright fellowship?

A Fulbright fellowship is a U.S. based fellowship that aims to facilitate culture and knowledge exchange between the U.S. and foreign countries. There are two main types of Fulbright, one for U.S. students and faculty, and one for international students and faculty to go to the U.S. It is considered a prestigious fellowship with around a 20% acceptance rate, where fellows must be selected first by their home country and then again by a panel in the host country.

In the summer of 2020, I had been considering opportunities for study abroad. I had recently read a lot of papers from leader and vice leader of the research group at AAU, Thomas Pedersen and Daniele Castello, so I decided to reach out and they were open to supporting my application and willing to host me, so I submitted the application and was awarded the fellowship.

How has the experience been?

The experience has been great! I adjusted well to the group culture and have been able to learn more about what goes into the process behind HTL and the struggles associated with designing and constructing a continuous HTL unit. Not only through my own research goals but talking through issues with groupmates also gave me a well-rounded view of the research activities of the group, as well as of the department as a whole.

The overall culture at AAU Energy from lunches with group members and friends to the various department-sponsored events all gave me a huge appreciation for AAU and for Danish work-life balance and culture, which is something that I hope to maintain in the U.S.

Which experiences, both scientific and personal, did you gain?

When I first arrived at AAU, I was nervous, mainly for being in a new country where I didn’t speak the primary language. Being at AAU has allowed me to make lifelong friends, gain insight into new ways of conducting and viewing research and world problems, as well as learn more about myself and my ability to travel alone to a new country and do things outside my comfort zone.

I have enjoyed seeing the different laboratories and comparing the way experiments are completed between the groups and what I am used to. I have been able to participate in the department events from the moment I arrived with the DHL run and was lucky enough to be able to spend time with great friends and colleagues all around Aalborg and Denmark in general!

Is it something you would recommend to others?

100%. Even when things don’t go fully to plan, coming to AAU has been an amazing experience that I won’t soon forget. Even before leaving I had already begun discussing ways I could return to work again or at least visit. The people at AAU are some of the friendliest people I have ever met that are able to welcome you with open arms. Professionally, it is always a good idea to broaden your outlook and look at problems from other points of view and seek out collaborations and information from others.

Fulbright scholars from Denmark

Fulbright scholarships are also granted foreign researchers looking to conduct research in the USA, and AAU Energy’s own Associate Professor Petar Durdevic is spending this fall semester at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where he is going to work with Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Besides doing interesting research, Petar is also, like Heather, going promote culture exchange between Denmark and the USA and learn more about himself and his everyday work through observing the differences in teaching and conducting research between the two countries.