We have interviewed chemical and energy engineer, Ashish Chawla, from India. He explains how the Danish focus on sustainability brought him here and to a thesis project with Equinor in Kalundborg.
I am from the city of Allahabad near New Delhi in India and completed my bachelor's in chemical engineering in 2012 in Bangalore and then worked in the fertilizer industry for around 3 years. I then started to have an urge to learn more and wanted to go back to the university. At that time focus on sustainability was starting to evolve in India and I found it both really interesting and also extremely important. With my interest I started to look around for frontrunner countries within this field and then naturally looked towards Scandinavia. Scandinavia is known for green energy solutions and a general focus on sustainability within the culture and lifestyle of the Scandinavian people.
As a result, I came to Denmark in August 2016 to study a Master in Sustainable Energy at DTU. DTU has several relevant programs within sustainability and ended up being a great choice for me. Studying my masters at DTU was a lot different than my bachelors that I did back in India. For me the entire way the program was structured was designed for me to learn. The courses I took were very project and hands-on orientated and as I put my energy and time in these projects, I really learned a lot about all the challenges when dealing with the theories in practice. A lot of what we studied at the university in Bangalore was theoretical and I really liked the shift at DTU towards more real-life experiences.
When the time for my master thesis approached, I of course wanted to find a relevant and interesting project. I got in contact with Knowledge Hub Zealand who has collaborations with several companies in Kalunborg. Through their collaborations I then got in contact with Equinor Refining Denmark A/S. Equinor, previously known as Statoil, is an international energy company with operations in over 30 countries and more than 20.000 employees developing oil, gas, wind and solar energy.
After the interview process to assess the match between the project at Equinor and myself, I started my collaboration with them in February 2018 and then my official thesis work began in September 2018. My project concerned energy optimization using the principles of heat integration or pinch analysis. My thesis had the overall headline: Energy Optimisation at Equinor Refining Denmark A/S. I had already done a similar mini-project as part of my study so the match between the company's project and I was advantageous for both parts. The project studies the old section of the refinery and tries to improve its thermal energy efficiency. There were two overall steps in the analysis. First, analyzing whether there is a potential for more energy efficiency by pinch analysis. Second, since in this case I did find a potential I then made an analysis of how to make it more optimal. This is called heat exchanger network retrofit.
Equinor Denmark is based in Kalundborg and I went there once a week during the project, so it was not necessary to go there every day. I know Kalundborg may seem really far from Copenhagen and of course I did have some early mornings, but I will also tell you this; It was all well worth it. I have to say that throughout my entire masters I learned the most during my thesis project. I got to know the entire process of solving a problem in the real world. It made me more informed and gave me a wider picture than in smaller classroom projects. Going forward I also learned how to make wise assumptions in similar projects.
In the future my profile and interest are the most important. I might want to do an industrial PhD but I am mostly motivated by seeing real-life results of my work, so it is important to me that my work doesn't get too theoretical. I always think I will have room to learn more and to improve. Of course, I feel like I am settled here in Denmark at this point, and I also really like it here - except for the long and cold winters. Danes are honest and very helpful with all the official matters that makes it possible for me to stay here. Further, it is very appealing to me to live in a country with such low level of corruption and where many of the principles of sustainability actually applies.
Last year I also participated in the Greater Copenhagen Career program where I especially gained a lot from my collaboration with my mentor. One of the characteristics of the Danish work culture is the flat hierarchy that I really like - but it is at the same time something that you need to be quite aware of. My mentor helped me understand and navigate in this kind of work culture since it is very different from what I was used to from India. Two main strongholds from the flat hierarchy as I experienced it are, firstly, that it helped me in taking ownership of my work and, secondly, that it gave me enough freedom to structure the work myself.
Whether I see myself staying in Denmark depends almost entirely on where I find the right job profile with the right impact for me that is definitely what matters the most. Since I came here in 2016, I haven't been home in India. I've spent my summers at summer schools in Europe. This is what motivates me, and my family supports me in that in every way.