Don’t go with the stereotypes that this profession is for one gender. Women can bring the change and we have to push the barrier. If you are interested in technology or bringing some new things into science, don’t stop yourself. Keep pushing forward and you’ll achieve great things!
To mark International Women in Engineering Day 2020, meet ground heat team manager, Dr Manju and find out more how this incredible woman challenged stereotypes and broke the mould to become a leading voice in the transformation of low carbon mine water heating in Wales.
Here at FLEXIS, we are lucky to have engineering focused women working on world leading research. Dr Manju is just one of these women.
Born and raised in India, Dr Manju has always pushed the envelope, she says:
“I carried out all of my education in India and throughout school I was always asked if I was going to study medicine. My brother was always asked if he was going to study engineering and this got me thinking… why was I not asked to study the same as him? I kept my options open and secured good grades in Maths, Biology, Physics and Chemistry. With my father’s encouragement, I decided to first study my undergraduate in Civil Engineering where, out of the 50+ students in the class, I was just 1 of 3 females. I thought to myself, you are now in a battlefield and you need to do your best!
After completing the graduation with a Distinction in 2000, I obtained the Indian Government fellowship to pursue my Masters in Environmental Engineering. In continuation from my Masters degree, I completed my PhD in Geoenvironmental Engineering from India’s best research institute Indian Institute of Science Bangalore India in December 2005.”
Dr Manju’s determination and hard work resulted in a her becoming the first female in her family to enter engineering. “I started working as a lecturer in Civil Engineering at Birla Institute of Technology, Pilani in India. At the same time, I was looking to explore the outside world and secured a research opportunity at Bauhaus Universitat Weimar, Germany, where I worked for 2 years. Here I was looking into engineered barrier system for nuclear waste disposal, which was very topical at the time.”
For a short period, Dr Manju moved back to India to have her son, Tatsam, before looking for new opportunities within geothermal engineering. After the maternity break, in 2010, Manju joined Cardiff University.
“This new role was a more challenging active topic. Much like today, everybody wanted to show how they could address climate change. The project looked at delivering new and innovative technologies in the emerging industry of generating heat energy from the ground. It started with looking at heat pumps. I was contacted by Taff Bargoed climbing centre (Rock UK Summit centre), home to the Trelewis Drift Mine and one of the Coal Authority’s largest treatment schemes site. I noticed that the warm water was constantly getting pumped for treatment before getting discharged to surface water. The heat from the water wasn’t being utilised so I started evaluating the technical benefits of utilising it. This was the first report I produced for the area. With support from an industrial partner, in 2014, I developed the first commercial demonstrator of the viability of mine water as a renewable energy source for heat in Wales with a live exemplar project at Crynant.
“It was the first of its kind in Wales and it got a lot of attention from Government and industry. One of my biggest achievements was presenting the briefing in the Welsh Assembly on the potential of Minewater in Wales with title “Unlocking the untapped potential of the South Wales Coalfield” in 2014. Bridgend council then applied to work with this new smart heating system which is in development today. That really gave me a big confidence boost that my research and ideas were good enough and they could be commercialised.
“During this time, think it was 2012-2013, I was also invited to a royal soiree at Cardiff City Hall. I was so busy with work; I was saying to a friend that I wasn’t sure if I had the time to go. I’m so glad I did as I got to meet and present my work within the pioneering technology to Princess Anne. That was such a proud moment for me.”
As the UK and the world, continues to focus on reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero, engineering continues to adapt to develop new research and technology to meet our growing needs. Talking about her current research and where she sees her career moving in the next 5 to 10 years, Dr Manju says:
“As we focus on achieving net zero targets, my work is now looking at the zero carbon journey and how to integrate mine water heating technology together with another renewable technology. This is known as a flexible energy system. It ensures a reliable, economical and consistent energy supply to reduce the peak time demand in the winter by shifting heat production to times when the grid can best accommodate it.
The decarbonisation of heat is growing attention within government and industry with more and more demonstrations in mine water heating/renewable energy district heating pop up around the UK. I’m in a really strong position to contribute to the knowledge gap and in coming years I would like to move into an advisory or consultant role. I see the next steps with this technology is working on how to commercialise it and bring that technology to an industrial scale. Something I know I can develop and add real value to.”
7.7 million properties in the UK are on a coalfield so the potential for this technology is huge. There is still a way to go but with new talent and knowledge we will develop innovative, sustainable and reliable net zero technology.
Today of all days we shine a spotlight on Women in Engineering and when asked ‘What advice would you give to young women thinking about a career in engineering/science? Dr Manju says:
“Don’t go with the stereotypes that this profession is for one gender. Women can bring the change and we have to push the barrier. If you are interested in technology or bringing some new things into science, don’t stop yourself. Keep pushing forward and you’ll achieve great things!”