PhD study Marco Gerola
why did you choose to do a PhD on energy geo-structures?
I had already worked for six months at University of Trento before I sent the application for the PhD call, and I really appreciated the geotechnical research field in general.
To be honest I only discovered energy geostructures (EGS) when I read for the first time the PhD description, because I think it is not so common to learn about geothermal subjects during a civil engineering course.
But after reading some publications on EGS I was so impressed by the great potential that this kind of structures have. Then I realized that that EGS are necessary to reduce C02 emissions and thus contrast the world climate change, and this gave me a great motivation to apply for the PhD call.
what is the focus of your studies?
The most important project I am currently working on, in the frame of a collaboration between CRUX Engineering and the University of Milan, concerns the energy quay wall, that is an innovative EGS type.
CRUX installed an experimental site facility near Delft to understand the real potential of this EGS and to understand the system behavior. They also installed a very good monitoring system to monitor a lot of different parameters, such as the temperature into the soil and the water flow into the pipes. I am trying to simulate with a Finite Element code the heat exchange between the energy quay wall and the surrounding soil and the water. I can validate my model with all the data collected from the monitoring system and thanks to the model I hope we can improve the efficiency of the system and simplify the design process.
What is it that makes the energy sheet pile so interesting?
Normally an EGS exchange heat only with the soil and after many years the EGS may be less efficient because the soil does not have an infinite heat to extract but it is necessary to establish a balance between the amount of heat extracted and injected, to have a more or less constant efficiency over time. But the energy quay wall is different because it can exchange heat with the open water that could be a canal. The temperature of the open water, that is flowing, seems to not be affected by the heat exchange with the energy quay wall so it represents a sort of infinite energy resource that could be really useful to use.
Your generation is well aware of climate change, what are you doing yourself in this field?
I feel that my work could be useful to reduce C02 emissions and to mitigate climate change, and this is also why I am very motivated to do my best. But I also think that if we want to stop climate change, everyone has to make an effort. Every day I pay attention to use only the resources that I need trying to avoid wastage. For example, I rarely use my car to go to work but I use my bike or the public transports, I never throw food away but I organize my meals carefully. When I go to supermarkets I buy as little plastic as possible.
And I use the electricity for the lights or for cooking only when I need it. I could add other points on the list but I think I am trying to do as much as possible every day to slow down the climate change and I hope all the other people are committed to do that.
What do you find interesting working both at the University of Milan and at CRUX?
I really like working both at the University of Milan and at CRUX engineering. I was impressed the first time I discovered the energy quay wall project because I think it has a great potential and could reduce the energy consumption of buildings, which account for 40% of global energy consumption in the EU. Moreover I like to work on practical projects, like the energy quay wall one, because I know that my results, if they will be good, will be used in order to improve for example, the energy efficiency. I know there are a lot of other PhD students who are working on very theorical topics that are very interesting, but I prefer to see the application of my work, that is a great possibility when you work with a society like CRUX. And I think everyone has to experience living abroad at least once.
Is there a big difference between Italy and the Dutch?
I lived in Milan for 6 months and now I'm in Delft. I think there are many differences between the two cities. Milan is one of the biggest cities in Italy and I used to take public transportation such as trains, metro and buses, to go to the university. In Delft my life is easier because in less than 10 minutes by bike I can go to the CRUX office. Another big difference is the weather. In 6 months I think I saw the rain more or less 5 times in Milan and when I came in Delft it rained for a whole week, a very nice welcome! Also the temperature is quite different. In this July in Milan there were 40 degree in some days and in Delft the highest temperature I saw until now is more or less 27 degrees.
But when I took the plane in June to move to The Netherlands I did not check the weather and I left my jacket in Italy because I thought I would find like 30 degrees. I will never forget my jacket again.
Now you are staying in NL for a few months, what do you miss most about Milan?
I miss my family, my friends and my colleagues at the university and I like to see the city surrounded by (some) mountains, this is quite hard to find in the Netherlands. But I think that is all. I really like living in Delft. It seems very peaceful compared Milan. There are few cars into the city and most of them I think are electric. I can go everywhere with my Swapfiets bike and I don't have to wait to take public transports hoping they won't be late. I almost forgot, but in my opinion the Italian food is unbeatable!
Following on from the previous question; is your future in sunny Milan or in the Netherlands?
This is a very difficult question. If someone had told me one year ago that now I would be in the Netherlands I would probably have started laughing. In my life I took my choices based only on what I like to do without thinking about the future.
I applied for this PhD because I like doing research and I like the EGS topic, so when I discovered this occasion I thought it was perfect for me. Now I have at least other 2 and half years where I want to be focused on my work without other distractions. So what will I do afterwards? The best answer I can give is that I don't know! But I'm sure I will try to keep doing a job the I like, and it could be both in Italy or in the Netherlands.