What did you study and what does your work focus on?
Last July, I graduated from Eindhoven University of Technology where I completed a Sustainable Innovations Bachelor’s degree followed by a Sustainable Energy Technology Master’s degree. I am really happy with my education because it equipped me with good expertise in technology, while also allowing me to think about the link between technology, social and economic issues. I learned to think about technology more broadly, rather than a “simple” innovation, and how to insert it in a large-scale system. Today, I work for DIFFER (Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research) where I coordinate a project focused on the energy transition. My job is to set up a research program for the right processes and procedures to design future energy infrastructure, despite the current unknowns.
In 2017, you and your team won the World Solar Challenge with your solar-powered family car. Can you tell us more about it?
I paused my studies for a year and a half to focus on this project as it required a lot of time and dedication. I took it on because I was looking for a challenge. We chose to focus on the family car because it’s an extremely well-known concept that speaks to everyone. We really wanted to focus on a project that has an impact on everyone. Everyone loved that it used sustainable technology. Our car, Stella Vie, can carry up to 5 people, and has a maximum distance range of 1000km. It is equipped with lithium-ion batteries to collect and store the sun’s energy. Working on this project really taught me a lot.
What does the future of this project look like? In your opinion, is it crucial for the automotive industry to be one of the first to change?
Following the challenge, the founders decided to keep the project going by creating the Lightyear One. Some team members actually joined the company to try to turn our concept into a consumer’s product. I admire them for that. It is really hard to bring about change in a field with so many established and powerful brands. Generally speaking, I don’t think it’s necessary to have a far-reaching roadmap; instead, it’s better to try to change things one step at a time! We can already do a lot within the automotive industry: improving a car’s aerodynamics, for example. Comparing France and the Netherlands, I really think electric cars are developing faster in the latter: during car rides in Paris and Amsterdam, I tried several times to count how many electric cars I could see. I came to the conclusion that in France, households are opting for electric slowly. And, through doing some research, I learnt that the Netherlands has the most charging points per kilometer in Europe! That could have something to do with it.
In 2020, you spoke during the first edition of Techrede to highlight both the role of technology and your generation in society. In your opinion, is technology an answer to the great challenges of our time? How do you see the future on this point?
I am deeply convinced that technology can provide an answer to the great challenges we face. But I am also convinced that it cannot change the entire system alone. It has to be integrated progressively and on every level for people to really co-create and accept it. Moreover, I feel that this acceptance is our generation’s responsibility: we have to work on making other generations accept changing the system that they themselves have built. However, the activism of the last few years, especially concerning climate, shows that there are people ready to take action and change things. I’m not an activist myself but I try to change things in my daily life and the people around me. So that it becomes a habit, like eating less meat, buying less clothes, limiting my car trips, etc. It is by trying to change, by debating, that we can change mentalities.
You are also involved with the Lead Your Future association, a platform that connects young women to help one another in the workplace. Why did you feel this commitment was necessary? What is your opinion regarding the place of women in technology?
I think it is essential to show all young women that they can have access to any job, are capable, talented, and should not be afraid to aim high. Unfortunately, many of these girls come from environments that don’t have access to this information, so we have to seek them out, teach them, and show that anything is possible! I help by giving advice and sharing my experience. I am still young but I become a role model of sorts for them, which is quite strange! On my side, both my parents did technical studies. My father always wanted me to get my hands dirty and work things out on my own. But I’m aware this isn’t the case for many: in my Master’s degree, there were only 20% women, which is too few! Moreover, when I look for a job, I look at the percentage of women in the team or company, which helps guide my choice. However, while I’ve been in a fairly male-dominated world, it is easy to stand out because my university and companies want to highlight women in these environments. So sometimes you can benefit from the system!
In light of your projects and commitments, what message would you like to convey to our readers?
I would like girls to know that working in tech can be a very positive experience! Women must believe in themselves and harness their creativity. As for the rest, I would like people to see the energy transition as a win-win situation: it is not a constraint or punishment. On the contrary, it allows us to access new things, advance society, and limit our impact on the environment.
What are your next challenges?
For now, I would like to finish the project I started with DIFFER, and make it successful! Afterwards, I would like to look for a new job; why not in France!