Just like many colleagues in the energy transition field Laetitia Ouillet is afraid that we have started to take action too late and are consequently going to witness climate circumstances that we cannot turn back anymore. Nevertheless the new pioneer of the TU/e Strategic Area Energy is positive as well and wants ‘to go all out’ to limit these consequences wherever possible. It soon became clear to Ouillet that this will require exploring other avenues. She wants to organize large-scale fundamental research, contrary to other universities that embrace testing grounds and smaller experiments. In her opinion, the focus is too much on the near future, whereas more attention should be devoted to the second step in the energy transition. Which is precisely the area in which knowledge institutions such as TU/e can make a difference.
The solutions for attaining the goals of the Paris Climate Convention have been presented. Admittedly, many of those solutions are still in the first stage of the development process, so there is enough work to be done. I think that the real challenge is not so much in the technology itself, but especially in incorporating it into our daily life. In the meantime we must keep filling the innovation pipeline. Within TU/e we are working on a number of themes in order to make the switch to a fully CO2- free future after 2025 possible. A promising subject is chemergy - the storage or conversion of energy into useful products.
‘A current drawback of sustainable energy is that it is not controllable. It is not always available at moments when it is needed and to excess at other moments. We are working on heat storage, and on using new fuels such as metal fuels and solar fuels. A great deal of research is also being conducted into the wireless transport of electricity - which is important, for instance, for a stable network and reducing the burden on it and in electric transport. For this we have a state-of-the-art laboratory.’
‘And how can we reduce the CO2 that has already been emitted? Is its storage in a certain porous material possible, for example? Fundamental research is crucial for finding the solutions to all those questions, and in the present subsidy climate, where so much revolves around applicability and cooperation with the business community, this is not always a matter of course. Until fundamental research forms the focus of the transition policy, we need to be inventive ourselves.’
‘In the many discussions I have with people from the business community it turns out that whilst they have studied at TU/e they do not actively promote that. And often they do not feature in any TU/e list either, although these are often alumni that have influential positions within the energy sector. We are working on a new energy transition alumni network, From TU/e to Energy (#fromTUe2NRG). Bringing together people with different views and knowledge can work like a breeding ground and can thus accelerate innovative research. At the same time, a good network contributes to propagating our vision. And in the longer term we may even be able to find crowdfunding for promising fundamental research that falls outside the subsidy rules, which is the case for a number of solar fuel projects.
Although Ouillet with her background in economy and econometrics occasionally - as she says with a smile - ‘seems to be the only non-technical person at TU/e’, she is in the right spot now with her helicopter view and the extensive knowledge she has gained over the years in the sustainable energy market within companies including Nuon and Eneco. ‘I speak the language of the business sector and can pool and connect knowledge, a good starting position. Now that I am working at the front of innovation, I am gaining more insight into the bottlenecks. I’ve become more realistic about the energy transition. I also see where there are challenges and opportunities and where we can make big steps jointly - researchers and alumni together.
On Thursday December 14 the first meeting of the new alumni network FromTUe2NRG took place. As of 14.30 hours alumni were welcome for lab visits. As of 16.00h alumni talked about their studies and their present activities. The theme of the afternoon was conviviality, with an informal and varied program around energy transition and our alumni.