Dr Shiladitya Ghosh’s (MEng Chemical Engineering 2016, PhD 2021) Imperial journey began in 2012.

Surrounded by diverse groups of people and involving himself in a long list of clubs and societies, Dr Ghosh felt his world view “expanding” over his undergraduate years.

Not wanting to move on too soon, Dr Ghosh decided to stick around for a few more years and undertook a PhD in Chemical Engineering (focused on thermochemical energy storage) here too.

After completion of his PhD in 2021, and equipped with the entrepreneurial knowledge gained during his MEng, Dr Ghosh went on to co-found Mission Zero Technologies, which specialises in direct air capture innovation. In 2022, Mission Zero Technologies secured global recognition as the only UK-based company among fifteen initial $1m Milestone Award winners in the $100m XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition, the largest prize purse in history supported by entrepreneur Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation.

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

The importance of learning from others and being adaptable.

Being at such an international university, you find yourself surrounded by brilliant people who have such unique ways of seeing the world, and who are motivated and driven by a whole host of factors. By simply making friends from a range of courses and activities, you’ve a great chance to expand your world view, learn to do things differently and see a bigger picture.

If you were to get involved in one of the hundreds of student clubs, societies and projects on offer at Imperial, I would say there is no way to avoid developing excellent time management and prioritisation skills. For me this turned out to be great preparation for what lay ahead after university!

In the sidebar I've listed some of the things I was busy with outside of my studies. 

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

... Admittedly I could have spent more time studying and less time on extracurricular activities!

However, when I did focus on my studies, I really appreciated the forward-looking courses available in my MEng studies across disciplines – especially the Clean Fossil Fuels, Environmental Engineering, and Intro to Nuclear Engineering courses that were available at the time. The current programme specification can be downloaded via the course webpage.

With the increasingly dire climate situation, I was grateful to be exposed to the future of the energy industry during my MEng, which certainly shaped my PhD and subsequent career direction.

The Imperial Horizons programme for undergraduates was also excellent as it gave me access to chances for holistic personal development, such as through the EWB engineering challenge, climate change courses, and even the opportunity to spend two years learning Mandarin.

During my PhD, it was eye opening to learn the wide range of cutting-edge research that my peers and seniors were engaging in, from developing new sorbents for carbon capture to regenerating retinas to cure blindness. What was consistently on show was the high calibre of work produced and strong motivation to work on things that would address challenging global problems.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

I often found my juniors inspiring.

It was easy to look at the achievements of my peers, seniors, lecturers, and so on, who may have been more successful, worked harder, or had better luck than me. It would make me feel satisfied with my own efforts.

However, when I came across juniors who squeezed in time to learn that sport I never tried, or who worked extra jobs just to keep up with living costs, or who pursued that placement in first year while most were on holiday (all whilst maintaining better grades than me!), I felt inspired.

Seeing their extra ambition and drive always motivated me to keep working harder and to keep developing myself - if they can do it, I have no excuse!

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

Giving campus tours as a (then) President’s Ambassador throughout the years was great.

With the array of guests that came through our revolving doors on Exhibition Road, ranging from middle schoolers to alumni groups to international diplomats, I had the opportunity to tell both my story and Imperial’s story to a wide range of stakeholders, past, present, and future, thus shaping their perspectives of Imperial (hopefully for the better!).

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

The now-demolished computer labs in the Bone building (part of the Chemical Engineering department), which were there until about 2015 and contained rows of desktop PCs.

Calling my undergraduate cohort workaholics would be putting it lightly… these labs were where most of our year group would work together on coursework and group projects - through lunch and dinner, day in and day out, only to be regularly evacuated by security at 23:55 because the building would be closing for the night.

The layout and environment of the place was really conducive not just for working efficiently in isolation but also for peers to gather, consult, collaborate, and learn together.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.

After graduating from my PhD just as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Europe, I co-founded a start up called Mission Zero Technologies, developing low-cost, modular, and decentralised technology for direct air capture (DAC) – a method of removing carbon dioxide from the air around us.

As the world develops low carbon pathways for the future, thereby addressing today’s and tomorrow’s emissions, we have an excess of yesteryear’s emissions still lingering in the atmosphere causing today’s global warming, and the existing natural and technological solutions are inadequate for remedying this. For this reason, DAC is a critical technology to be developed and scaled up urgently.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

As Chief Product Officer of Mission Zero Technologies, I look after my company’s external projects and internal engineering work. My typical day involves calls with our project partners, strategy, and technical discussions with our internal engineers, supporting my CEO in preparing commercial materials, and leading our grant applications at a minimum.

How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?

I spent my eight years at Imperial focused on developing myself so I could attain a career in addressing climate change. The technical skills and knowledge I gained in that time were critical in informing the development of the technology behind Mission Zero Technologies.

However, there were also additional non-engineering courses I had unwittingly taken as part of my MEng that proved immensely helpful in preparing me to later become an entrepreneur. 

A series of ‘business for engineers’ type modules run by my department gave me fundamental coaching to successfully develop a business plan for commercialising technology, and tips on how to make it viable. The additional opportunity to take several electives offered by Imperial College Business School also bolstered my understanding of financing mechanisms and basic accounting principles that are relevant to being a business owner.

Later, my PhD focused on the design and technoeconomic evaluation of new processes. This has been invaluable for crafting the analyses and predictions for our technology’s advantages and cost-effectiveness in scaling up when pitching to would-be customers and investors, well in advance of having a MVP.

What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

As an entrepreneur, you spend a lot of time applying for grant funding… and it typically goes as successfully as that of an academic research grant (less than five percent success rate!). Whenever applications get rejected, it does prove demotivating and make you doubt if your company is really going to be successful, but the best way forward is always to make sure your next application learns from the last one.

On the other hand, in leading an 18-month-old start up, I’ve been humbled to co-lead us to securing a $1.5 million award from Stripe, the payments company that is actively supporting technologies for carbon removal, as well as more recently securing a leading billionaire philanthropist’s fund as the lead investor for my company’s $5 million seed fundraising round.

What inspired you to drive forward climate action?

Honestly, I never saw any other career for myself. Growing up in Singapore and having family in India, I was acutely aware of global warming and the impending ill effects of climate change such as rising temperatures, droughts, and natural disasters on a regular basis.

Furthermore, as an adult I recognised that society has collectively heavily invested in me by affording me the privilege of a quality technical education and a comfortable upbringing. To me, it would be irresponsible to not make use of these boons by applying myself to tackling one of the most urgent and imminent crises facing all of us: the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the young and the old.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about climate change and global warming?

People think their actions as individuals will make no impact in the fight against climate change. This is a defeatist line of thinking and it is simply untrue.

You might not perceive an immediate positive impact of reusing your shopping bag or eating vegetarian for a day, but your actions are additive to everyone else’s. It won’t be the one single step that gets us to net zero, but that’s simply because there is no one step solution. Efforts are needed on all fronts and all scales to get us to a cooler future and you can definitely help us get there!

What recent developments or innovations in your sector give you hope for the future of climate action?

The outpouring of private sector funding and support for engineered climate technologies announced in line with COP26 in Glasgow recently.

Today we already have the technologies that can start making the climate impact we need, but they have long been starved of the funds to scale them up to do so apart from occasional government support in the US and Europe. It’s heartening to see other industries start to recognise what is needed to bridge this gap and then start contributing to it.

The climate-tech sector has been waiting to explode, and it’s finally getting the investment it needs.

What are your plans for the future?

To be so successful in healing the climate that my industry goes defunct. And I say this to be my plan, not simply an aim or ambition, because this is simply what is necessary.

What would be your advice for current students?

Whatever your industry, academic field, or career sector preference, bring yourself up to speed on its intersection with climate, because that will absolutely be the number one focus for almost all industries pretty soon.

Going into finance? Train up on climate and international development finance. Medic? Grow your knowledge of health conditions made worse by hot weather and dehydration. Mathematician? Knowing how to process big data is crucial for climate modelling.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

Seeing the good for humanity that my fellow alumni have already achieved in our university’s relatively young life.

What one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?

Ready for anything!

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?

There is a line from the antagonist of a 1998 animated movie that many people could do with taking onboard to make the world a better place:

“I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant… it is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”

This is from Pokémon: The First Movie, believe it or not!

Dr Ghosh is on LinkedIn here.