Student profiles

A few of ISE's students answer some questions about their study experience and living in Iceland.

Thesis Projects

Mariana Maia, Brazil

Second year ISE student conducting thesis research in Denmark

Name: Mariana Maia
Age: 39
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Academic Background: B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, BR
Major & Class: Sustainable Energy Engineering, Class of 2021

Location of thesis research: Copenhagen, Denmark 

Why did you choose Iceland School of Energy for your graduate studies?

The shortest version of why I chose Iceland and ISE is that I definitely could not find a place more different than Brazil. The weather is completely different, and the Nordic culture is so different from the Latin America. Also, Iceland is a leader in sustainable energy, and I thought that things probably would be completely different than back home. So, I really just wanted to see a full new perspective.

So, far, how has your ISE experience been?

My ISE experience was pretty amazing! The first year was incredible, starting with the summer field school when we met our classmates and bonded in a whole new level. We became a big international family. Everyone made me feel so like welcome and really miss all my classmates now that I am interning abroad.

How does the ISE program allow you to combine your interest with your work here?

I moved from Brazil to focus on sustainable energy and I am coming from a background of working full-time in the oil and gas industry. It was been so amazing learning about everything that is being done in this field. Everything from fuel cells and advanced energy storage to solar, wind, geothermal, and even tidal power.

How have you coped with the culture shock of moving to Iceland?

The funniest thing started out when I moved in July, from winter in Brazil to the “warm” summer in Iceland, and the temperature dropped significantly. Even though, summer was a perfect time to move to Iceland and adjust, because nothing can prepare you for the long, cold, and dark Icelandic winters.

Also, I cannot believe how safe everything is here in Iceland. When I go to the gym, I can leave all my stuff out in the locker room while I shower, and everything will be exactly where I left it when I come back. If you lose your wallet downtown, likely somebody will reach out on Facebook that they found it.

What do you enjoy about living in Iceland?

I love the geothermal pools, hot springs, and of course skyr smoothies. By the way, skyr is an Icelandic yogurt which is almost like Greek yogurt, but milder and has more protein. You have to try the skyr smoothies! I also love how you can walk everywhere. I lived downtown and walked to Reykjavik University, walked to Laugavegur (the main street of Reykjavik), and walked to my gym by Laugardalslaug.

How would you describe life in Reykjavik?

Life in Reykjavik is amazing. It has a very welcoming, small-town vibe with a splash of international presence from tourists and students. From Tuesday karaoke nights at Gaukurinn, to the Big Lebowski quizzes on Thursdays, or Secret Cellar karaoke. As you can tell, I am a big fan of karaoke. Other highlights include travelling around with classmates, going to geothermal rivers, hiking the Laugavegur Trail with some classmates.

What is the most useless thing you brought to Iceland?

My microphone. I am a singer and I used to have a rock band back home. I like to have a cordless microphone that I just carry around, because I like to sing my own microphone. I thought that Reykjavik would have more rock bands. Apart from that, open toe sandals. At least my bathing suits came in handy.

What is something you have done here that everyone should do?

Laugavegur Trail. Even though was very exhausting, it was so amazing! At one point you do not understand where you are because you go from a geothermal area to a very snowy mountain during summertime, then you go down to a valley and you see a desert and then back up into a forest. So, the views are just breathtaking, and it is really impressive.

I also recommend travelling around in a camper. It was such a nice experience to just pop open the door of the camper, have a glass of wine on the back, and look up to see the northern lights swirling above you.

How did you discover your thesis opportunity?

I worked for a Norwegian oil company in Brazil that is in the process of re-branding and pivoting to renewable and sustainable energy. I told them that I was moving to Iceland for this program and they granted me a two-year unpaid leave and were very interested about what I was learning.

When it became time to choose my thesis project, I talked to my company about what challenges they were facing. Specifically, about offshore wind energy because of what I was interested in. They gave me some ideas and one of them was about energy storage which led me to DTU (Technical University of Denmark) as they are one of the leaders in offshore wind research. I researched online and emailed DTU professors involved in this research and one thing led to another. One thing experience has taught me is the “no” you already have. If you just reach out and chase leads, the worst thing that you can get is the “no” you already have.

What motivated you to travel and study in Copenhagen, Denmark?

I just wanted to take everything from the experience as these might be my only two sabbatical years. Coming here with also allow me to meet more people and see different ways of doing things. The other main motivation was to broaden my background and education. I have been to Iceland who is a leader in sustainable energy and the next step was Denmark to focus on offshore wind energy research. I am excited to be networking with DTU who is one of the leaders in offshore wind energy.

What thesis research are you conducting?

My thesis paper is titled “Techno Economical Analysis of Green Ammonia Production using Offshore Wind Farms”. My supervisors are  Henrik Lund Frandsen of DTU,  Alessandro Singlitico of DTU, and  Guðrún Arnbjörg Sævarsdóttir of Reykjavik University.

I am looking at how to use excess energy from a large offshore wind farm to produce ammonia in a more sustainable way. Ammonia has a lot of CO2 emissions from traditional fossil fuel production. Ammonia is primarily used for fertiliser and there is ongoing research as a potential fuel for large vessels.

The first step is to produce hydrogen using either alkaline water electrolysis or solid oxide electrolyzer cells (SOEC). The next step is to produce ammonia using the hydrogen via the Haber–Bosch process. The electrolysis process requires large amounts of energy which is where offshore wind farms come into play to make this ammonia production process more sustainable.

What do you hope to accomplish?

The goals I hope to accomplish are to see how compatible these methods are to the current process of producing ammonia from fossil fuels, the efficiencies of each step, as well as studying the economics. Currently, using offshore wind is more expensive, but it is expected to go down over time. With the economics, I want to see what sort of incentives need to be in place for this to be developed now or in the next 10 years and to see the reductions in CO2 we can expect by switching hydrogen sources to sustainable electrolysis versus fossil fuel hydrocarbons.

What do you expect will be your biggest challenges?

The honest answer is motivation. The COVID-19 pandemic was something none of us expected and it completely upended our daily lives. Currently I am working all day in my dorm and talking over Zoom. Its very challenging to stay motivated when there are a million other things I can pick up and do at home.

That aside, my biggest challenges include finding the most cost competitive solutions and analysing such large-scale production without historical data. Producing ammonia through these methods at this scale has never been done before so I am needing to extrapolate everything from smaller case studies to fit large scale production. So, there is a lot of uncertainty with some assumptions.

About Iceland School of Energy

By bringing together the best from industry and academia, Iceland School of Energy provides a unique, and comprehensive training for its students. A wide range of courses taught by the very best in their field open a broad spectrum of possibilities for students and allow for individual study designs. Focus is put on close collaboration with industry experts while maintaining high academic quality of the work.

Iceland School of Energy is part of and accredited by the School of Science and Engineering at Reykjavik University in Iceland.

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