This interview was published in Newsletter Issue 22, September 2013.
Mr. Sarda, what is your main research subject?
I am investigating degradation phenomena in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC). I will be employing electrochemical methods to gauge the performance of these cells. Our goal is to extend the lifetime of these fuel cells to 100,000 hours, providing an impetus for the successful market introduction of this technology.
Why are you interested in this particular field of research?
I believe that the future energy mix will involve a shift away from the existing large centralised power production plants towards decentralised mini power plants that will enable energy consumers to dictate and control their energy requirements. Essentially, they will not only be consuming energy, but will also play an important role as “energy producers”. I foresee solid oxide fuel cells dr iving this transformation forward. They provide an attractive option as mini combined heat and power (CHP) units that will allow users to produce their own electricity and heat with very high levels of efficiency (up to 85%) using natural gas.
Why did you decide to do your doctoral studies in Germany?
The work being done on SOFC technology at FZ Jülich is renowned all over the world. The infrastructure and the freedom to utilise the available facilities also made the choice straightforward. Additionally, Germany is a country at the forefront of renewable energy technology implementation. Government policies, research at institutions and the energy industry itself are all actively contributing to the energy transition – or as they say in German, the “Energiewende”. It is exciting to experience this development first-hand.
Since 2011 you have been enrolled at the Helmholtz Graduate School HITEC, which stands for Helmholtz Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training in Energy and Climate Research. What is this interdisciplinary programme like?
The HITEC programme brings together doctoral students from different institutes to work on energy and climate research. They do this by organising HITEC days – one-day events with lectures by specialists in their respective research fields. These include lectures on different energy topics, such as solar, wind, biomass or fuel cells. In between lectures, we have break sessions where we can talk to each other. So mainly, I would say that HITEC promotes networking. It also ensures that we train ourselves in important areas – for example, in making presentations. HITEC organises workshops where all the doctoral students receive training in how to present scientific results in a professional manner. We also learn more about project and time management. Furthermore, HITEC gives us the opportunity to visit other institutes and to learn what research facilities and infrastructures are available to us.
What do you find most attractive about this programme?
To me, the main benefit is already reflected in the programme’s title: it is “interdisciplinary” doctoral training. I’m working on fuel cells, but I appreciate getting to know the perspectives of other doctoral students dealing with solar energy, nuclear energy or biomass, for example. I am learning a lot more about energy technologies than what merely relates to my own field. So I am gaining an idea of which energy technologies have more advantages than others. In the end, you realise that the solution of the energy problem will not come from one sector alone, but will be a combination of all energy technologies.
Not so long ago, you took part in a visit to Wildpoldsried, the “energy village”. What did you experience there?
We, the HITEC students, chose Wildpoldsried for our yearly retreat. This village in Allgäu produces 200 % more energy than its inhabitants consume. They have started a project to integrate this new model of energy production and consumption into everyday life. For example, they now have measuring devices in every home to control how much energy they are producing and how much they are consuming. This will make it possible to produce a model for the entire country. During the retreat, we organised lectures for each other and presented the facilities of each institute that could be of interest to the other doctoral students. The main goal of the retreat was to engage in discussion with each other about new energies and the “Energiewende”. Each doctoral student in HITEC works in a highly specialised area. We tried to figure out how we could best use the synergy effects.
What will your next career move be after completing the HITEC programme? Will you stay in Germany?
From a purely technological point of view, the answer is yes. For a renewable energy enthusiast, Germany offers a plethora of opportunities to advance your career and be at the cutting edge of research and development. If I decide to live here, I will have to make every possible effort to mix in with the people and the culture, which is why I want to master the German language. If I accomplish it, I will definitely stay.
Mr. Sarda, thank you very much for this interview.