Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Renewable power sources are often considered unreliable but PhD student Danilo Perez is investigating a new approach to storing renewable energy, making it easier to meet energy demand.
“My PhD research is focused on upgrading biogas originated during the wastewater treatment, injecting hydrogen generated using surplus renewable energies into a bioreactor called a microbial fuel cell. This offers a feasible way to store surplus energy generated from renewable sources.
“When electricity produced from renewable sources is used for generating a chemical energy carrier, such as methane, it is considered as energy storage. If massive amounts of renewable energy were stored for long periods of time, it would be possible to counteract the characteristically higher fossil fuel consumption of winter and peak demand periods. This would allow for both a renewable based energy matrix, and a quick and reliable response to meet the power demand. Furthermore, as every council must treat its waste, it could even become a source of income by selling energy to the grid from their waste treatment.”
Danilo’s research is supervised by Professor Tek Tjing Lie from AUT’s School of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences.
From the research, the duo is planning to construct a ‘navigation chart’ to operationalise the existing knowledge on microbial electrolysis cells' most influential factors related to physical design, underlying biochemical pathways, and operational responses to maintain reliable performance. Danilo has already had the opportunity to present part of his work at the World Biogas Summit 2020.
Shaping the future of resource usage
It’s a great opportunity to be able to carry out this research at AUT, says Danilo who came to AUT as an international student from Chile.
“I truly believe that my research can contribute to the society we’re building, and how we approach resource usage. It’s a really interesting experience that has the components for everyone to strive and help configurate the society we want.
“We all know where the world is going in terms of renewable energy deployment and electrification, however two of the biggest challenges I have faced are that people inherently relate methane with fossil fuels and renewable energies with unreliability.”
Danilo says he can see himself as a link between the academic world and industry, helping spread this technology beyond big cities to isolated settlements and decentralising power generation.
An enjoyable journey
Having joined AUT after a successful career at industrial biotech company Aguamarina, Danilo is enjoying the flexibility and adaptability his research offers him.
“My entire work experience is based on the private sector, so there was always an immense pressure for having results and moving forward. Now I’m really enjoying the possibility to change the design of experiments on the fly and adapt my research based on the results in order to close knowledge gaps that appear on the way.”
Expecting to complete his PhD in 2021, Danilo has some great advice for other students.
“Life has everything, but when you pursue what gives your life purpose and you know you’re helping to build the society you desire; the journey is worth it and enjoyable. So just keep going.”
In addition to his studies, he has also enjoyed being a finalist in the AUT X Challenge entrepreneurship competition; an experience he enjoyed because it forced him to look beyond a project’s technical feasibility and establish its market viability.