A Q&A with Sara Budinis: The new Research Theme Champion for Clean Energy

Energy Futures Lab institute develops multidisciplinary, cross-faculty collaborations at Imperial College in order to tackle the broad range of energy challenges that the world faces. This year, the Institute set up a new Initiative recruiting a series of leads and champions for their five different Research Themes to encourage the exchange of ideas across Imperial College.

Dr. Sara Budinis was recently asked to be the champion for “Clean Fossil Fuels” Research Theme. We asked Sara about her new role.

1. How did you find out about the Theme Champion position?

The team at Energy Futures Lab emailed me and asked if I would be interested in being the Champion, and I thought it was an interesting initiative to help to develop a community.

The idea is to have a lead (a senior academic) and a champion (a post-doctoral researcher) for each of Energy Futures Lab’s five research themes, Policy and InnovationEnergy Infrastructure, Sustainable PowerLow Carbon Transport and Clean Fossil Fuels. Each will develop an in-depth knowledge of the people and the work taking place at the college in that particular area.

2. Why do you think collaboration in the field of Energy research is so important?

Energy is such a big topic, and one of the major societal challenges we face today. Energy consumption is important in every aspect of our lives from a personal to a country level. Some people in the world need more access to energy, and we need to find ways to reduce the impact of that added consumption on the environment and climate and also find ways to improve future efficiency.

It’s also very interdisciplinary as an area, and therefore a challenge for people working in the area to get an overall big picture perspective. We therefore need help from engineers (mechanical and chemical), natural scientists, behavioural scientists, and people with a huge range of diverse skills.

3. How many people work in Energy research at Imperial College?

There are over 1000+ people at Imperial College working in the area. While many groups may collaborate with each other, it’s difficult for researchers to keep track of who is working on different sub-topics.

4. Why is ‘Clean Fossil Fuels’ an important theme?

While we transition to low carbon technologies and renewable energies,  we do still need to think about how to reduce the current environmental impact of operations from the oil and gas industries and other industrial sectors, and also find ways to use the expertise gained in this area. In this particular theme, there are people working across a number of departments researching into clean energy, Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS), combustion science, and bioplastics/biofuels etc.

I work at the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI) where we explore the role of natural gas in a low carbon world. For example, our team is working on quantifying and reducing methane emissions from natural gas. I am also currently responsible for the development of the industrial module for a new energy systems model (MUSE), which is looking at existing and new technologies across all economic sectors (not just in oil and gas), and their associated energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and cost on a global scale.

5. What steps will you take to help build a community around Clean Fossil Fuels?

In the short-term, I think it’s important to find out who is working in the area, and find out what they are doing, and what their interests are. It would be useful to know if there are any shared interests and skills so if a new research problem/question comes up, we can get the right people together to brainstorm.  It’s not just about networking. There is also a more practical goal of setting up collaborations to work on submitting a research proposal or writing a paper.

About Sara 

Dr. Sara Budinis is a Research Associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute and is based in the Department of Chemical Engineering. She is the lead author of the second report in the SGI White Paper Series, ‘Can technology unlock unburnable carbon?‘.