Marcus Ulmefors (MEng Mechanical Engineering 2012) works with the engineering team at InnoVentum in Sweden to design and build wooden hybrid power stations that generate renewable electricity from solar and wind power, combining clean energy technologies with artistic use of modern construction methods. We caught up with him to find out more:
Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?
"I focussed on topics related to energy conversion and in particular on zero carbon technologies. For my final year I was offered the opportunity to represent Imperial on exchange at University of California, Berkeley. Energy conversion remained my focus and I studied ocean wave power, nuclear fission reactors, and photovoltaic cells.
Imperial taught me the importance of asking the right questions to the right people. When faced with learning about a new field it’s amazing to experience how much can be learnt through a few seemingly simple questions. I’m an avid supporter of global educational initiatives such as Khan Academy and University MOOCS since the free sharing of information enabled by these platforms make more time available for great teaching and tutoring.
In addition to the subject knowledge I gained at Imperial, I’ve also developed many transferable skills that have helped me greatly in my career. Perhaps the most evident is how the high standard of precise technical writing at Imperial has prepared me extraordinarily well for written communication in industry."
What is your fondest memory of your time here?
"Looking back at activities in both academic and extracurricular contexts one particular favourite memory comes to mind. I partnered up with three colleagues for the Design, Make and Test group project. We designed and built an automated sun tracker which concentrated solar power trough a Fresnel lens to drive a Stirling engine that was manufactured in a previous student project. It was very inspiring to work towards a challenging goal with such dedicated and talented team members. I remember the unbeatable feeling of being repeatedly impressed by the work of my co-workers and very proud of the successful outcome. Our efforts even resulted in being rewarded the prize for best project of the year."
Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.
"Today I work for the Swedish company InnoVentum. The engineering team designs and builds wooden hybrid power stations generating renewable electricity from solar and wind power. The hybrid approach was chosen since solar and wind sources complement each other nicely (winds are stronger during the night and during winter months). Combining the energy sources also improves energy output per unit area which is particularly beneficial in the urban and suburban areas where many of our installations are made.
We are very proud of how our product design has enabled us to replace steel towers with wooden structures and concrete slabs with screw foundations. These material substitutions enable considerable carbon footprint reductions and using wood for the structural members makes the structures look beautiful! In essence we are combining clean energy technologies with artistic use of modern construction methods."
What have been your career highlights and lowlights?
"One lowlight was definitely working on a three month solo project. Initially it may look desirable being completely in control of all deliverables and able to take full credit for the final product. In practice the learning process is slowed down and the quality of the final result is likely to be inferior due to lack of design discussions. Highlights today include every installation that we complete, especially exciting are the occasions when new designs are erected for the first time."
What are your plans for the future?
"I will continue to work with renewables and in particular with designs for people and companies who desire beautiful energy production. It is already common to choose carefully when purchasing cars, clothes, watches, electronics and appliances for the home. Products in these categories are not commodities and are used to define character and taste. My bet is that our generation will expand the range of such products to include renewable energy production. Communicating how we produce our energy will be as important as communicating how we choose to dress or travel."
What would be your advice for current students?
"Don’t hesitate to get involved in one of the inspiring projects that are running at Imperial. Should you struggle to find a suitable project there is nothing stopping you from creating your own! Personally I was involved mainly in sports and student academic representation but looking back I am sure that I would have benefitted greatly from joining an engineering project such as Equinox. These initiatives offer many great values: not only will you learn many useful and interesting skills from practical work, but you will also create strong friendships and obtain tangible evidence for these skills and interests which will be very beneficial when looking for jobs upon graduation. In addition, many of these projects are run for a good cause which will make it easier to find people willing to help. It’s a useful exercise in connecting people with complementary skills in order to accelerate development towards a goal; a great experience that is valuable in industry and academia alike."
What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
"Most likely what to do immediately after graduation, especially choosing in which country to live and whether to pursue academia or industry. In the end I decided to decline a research project in California and move back to Sweden. Not an easy decision but it turned out to be the correct one."
What are you most proud of in your life?
"Successes in academia and industry are very satisfying, not least when they are officially recognised and rewarded with prizes. However, I feel most pride when I think back on the times where I have supported friends who have found themselves in personal crises. Taking time off a busy schedule in order to offer a helping hand is never the wrong decision. If anything I regret not doing more of it."
Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
"If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it." – Elon Musk