Naoko Ellis - Turning Technologies Into Sustainability Solutions

A leading researcher in clean energy systems and technologies, Dr. Naoko Ellis helps students gain both technical expertise and the communication skills to understand how to work with others to turn technologies into sustainable solutions.

Naoko Ellis

Education: PhD (UBC), MESc (Western), BSc (Waterloo)

What led you to engineering?

When I was 13 I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which launched my interest in the impact of chemicals in our environment and ultimately led to my decision to do an undergraduate degree in chemistry.

Towards the end of my degree I realized I could have a greater impact in society as an engineer. My education in chemistry taught me to look at things at the molecular level and to really get to know compounds. But I wanted to take that knowledge to solve societal problems and develop different technologies to address issues of concern – and chemical engineering was the best way to do that. 

Chemical Engineering

Tell us about your research.

I work on clean energy systems and investigate technologies that can help us minimize or avoid the consequences of the climate emergency. I do research with students and other collaborators on a range of projects, with many focusing on carbon capture and storage, which I believe can be an important tool in this period of energy transition. 

I am currently leading the UBC team in a multi-institutional research project called Accelerating Community Energy Transformation. Along with Indigenous scholar Maggie Low, my focus will be on collaborating with remote and Indigenous communities in B.C. to help them move from diesel-based energy production to cleaner choices. The goal is to enhance community well-being and advance the goals of truth and reconciliation through energy sovereignty. 

Read Dr. Ellis’s article

Accelerating Community Energy Transformation

Maggie Low

Why is this research important?

I’ve done a lot of research in my career that has advanced our understanding of the knowledge and technologies we need to generate clean energy.

I want that research to have a broader impact. We have many helpful technologies at hand, yet they are not being applied at the needed scale. 

One of the bottlenecks has to do with education – many of these tools are not embraced or well understood. I believe that education and communication are essential to equip all of us – individuals, students, communities, organizations and governments – to make decisions that can make a positive difference. 

The Accelerating Community Energy Transformation project is an exciting opportunity to identify ways clean energy solutions can create healthier, energy self-sufficient communities. 

This knowledge could help advance our shared understanding of how to scale solutions up from the level of a few communities community to larger areas.

Watch Dr. Naoko Ellis speak at UBC Engineering Open House

What undergraduate courses do you teach?

I teach a course on carbon capture, conversion and sequestration, as well as a course on environmental engineering and sustainability leadership. 

One theme that runs throughout my classes is the need for engineers to gain both technical expertise and the communication and leadership skills to understand how to work with others to turn technologies into sustainable solutions.

Course on Carbon Capture, Conversion and Sequestration

Why should students choose UBC?

As a student, you have the opportunity to learn about sustainability from leaders in the field. But you also have the opportunity to get involved and do sustainability – whether that’s being part of an undergraduate research project or taking part in one of the many clubs and design teams that focus on this area. 

UBC is a leader in sustainability education and our campus is a living lab for many initiatives – there’s no better place to both learn and do sustainability.

Student in a lab holding a mini Erlenmeyer flask.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

Chemical and biological engineers will be equipped to excel in a number of fast-growing and highly paid fields, including biotechnology, food, environmental services, bioenergy, forestry, biopharmaceuticals, health care and biomedical engineering.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

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