School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials

Staff Profile

Dr Sharon Velasquez Orta

Lecturer in Chemical Engineering

Background

Before pursuing my academic career, I acquired experience in environmental industrial processes working with companies such as Nestle, J&J, P&G, Kimberly Clarck and Jumex. Since then, I have used a multidisciplinary approach to address current world challenges in areas related to sustainability, biomass valorisation and effective management of waste, with a specific focus on understanding biomass transformations. As part of my PhD and further academic studies, I’ve investigated how biomass can enable energy production, bacterial monitoring and wastewater treatment across multiple applications. My research over the past 10 years has focused in enabling the development of novel technologies such as microbial fuel cells (MFC) across a broad range of applications. To this aim, I have partnered with different Universities (Tanzania, Mexico, US) and companies (Palintest, Northumbrian Water) to enable these novel applications to be tested in the field. As an example, my most recent research, sponsored by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has allowed us to test an inexpensive MFC in Tanzania wells, aiming to provide early monitoring of faecal contamination to rural communities.

Qualifications

  • 2005 – 2010 Integrated PhD in Environmental Sciences Newcastle University, UK. Schools of Civil Engineering & Geosciences and, Chemical Engineering & Advanced Materials.Thesis: Bioelectricity production from simple and complex organic compounds using Microbial Fuel Cells. 2005-2006 Master in Environmental engineering courses.
  • 2007 – 2009 Postgraduate Certificate in Advance Studies in Academic Practice Newcastle University, UK. Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. 
  • 2004 – 2009 MEng in Environmental Engineering Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico. Faculty of Engineering. Thesis: Development of a microbial fuel cell biosensor for wastewater monitoring.
  • 1999 – 2003 BEng in Chemical Engineering La Salle University, México. Thesis: Sequential and continuous industrial process simulation and control (Univ. of South Florida, USA).

Awards

  • June 2016 Awarded 2nd prize in short presentation. 6th UK Algal Conference.
  • September 2015 Recognised as a Leading Innovator under 35 by MIT Technology Review.  
  • June 2011 Spotlight achievement award given by the School of Chemical Engineering 
  • March, 2009 Nominated to the Newcastle student achievement award in the environmental impact category.
  • April 2008 Awarded best conference poster in the 9th UK International Water Association Conference for Young Professionals 

Esteem Indicators

  • January 2015 Invited guest panellist to discuss the Tools for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene implementation. UN International Zaragoza Conference. Water and Sustainable Development from Vision to Action.  Zaragoza, Spain
  • April 2013 Invited speaker to present the work: Biofuel production from marine microalgae.  Instituto Mexicano de Ingenieros Químicos (IMIQ). Instituto Politecnico Nacional (IPN). ESIQUIE. Mexico City, Mexico
  • September 2012 Invited guest speaker to the bioelectrochemical systems networking event at IWA 2012. Supported by the Global Partnership Fund (GPF) of UK-BIS. Busan, Korea
  • October 2010 – Invited to present a poster in the International Review of Energy organized by EPSRC
  • April 2010 – Shortlisted candidate by the Royal Academy of Engineering/EPSRC to obtain a Research Fellowship at Newcastle University to gain research independence in energy from wastes.
  • June, 2009 – present. Invited research article reviewer for: Bioresource & Technology; Microbiology & Biotechnology; Fuels; Journal of Chemical Engineering

Research Funding

  • 2016-2017 PI Newton Fund (£80k). Collaboration with UNAM, Mexico: "Biofuel production from wastewater treatment" (1y)
  • 2016-2017 PI UNAM Mexican International Collaboration Programme (£2.7k) for the project titled: “Produccion de hidrocarburos para bioturbosina a partir de microalgas” (1y)
  • 2015-2016 PI Institute for Sustainability (£9k). "Can Shewanella Oneidensis MR-1 convert CO2 to biochemicals?"
  • 2015 PI Newton Fund (£4k) Research visit to UNAM, Mexico: “Development and commercialisation of microalgae technologies for energy production, wastewater treatment and CO2 capture”
  • 2014-2015 PI NERC Research Grant (£150k). Collaboration with Ardhi University, Tanzania in the project titled IN-GROUND: Inexpensive monitoring of Groundwater pollution in Urban African Districts (1 y)
  • 2012-2014 CoI UNAM Mexican International Collaboration Programme (£14k) for the project titled: “Ozonoflotación de microalgas para la producción de biodiesel” (2 y)
  • 2012 - Knowledge Transfer Partnership (£14k) Partnership with Palintest Ltd. to commercialise a biosensor
  • 2009 Faculty of Engineering and Geosciences, NU (£4k) Enterprise scholarship
  • 2008 Royal Society of Chemistry (£400) Granted the Alan Tetlow Bursary for a Conference
  • 2008 International Water Association (£200) Awarded to attend the World Water Congress
  • 2005-2010 British Council/ CONACYT bursary (£45k) Granted to study my Integrated PhD
  • 2004 Rotary international funds (£1K) to support a youth workshop on water conservation

Professional memberships

  • Since 2009 Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • 2007-2013 Affiliate Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • 2005-2013 Member of the International Water association
  • 2006-2009 Member of Society of Chemical Industry

Languages

English (fluent), French (fluent), Spanish (native speaker)



Research

My research involves the evaluation of new environmental technologies that can achieve both energy generation and waste remediation. I am interested in the production of renewable energy from liquid, solid wastes and microalgae by applying bioelectrochemical, chemical and thermal techniques. Inspired by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, my vision is to advance environmental technologies that can monitor waste pollution and that can sustainably transform waste or biomass. I lead different projects within the BioRE (Environmental bio-electrochemistry and bio-Renewable Energy) group and I am also part of the Process Intensification Group. Researchers and students that work with me participate on different seminars and engage with an interdisciplinary community working on environmental, process intensification, electrochemistry and biological engineering fields.  

PhD projects offered:  I'll be happy to send you a description of the project and a sample of our research articles.

  1. Microbial electrosynthesis of chemicals: converting carbon dioxide to vinegar and other compounds
  2. Biofuel production from microalgae
  3. Continuous monitoring of water pollution using self-reliant systems
  4. Novel wastewater treatment operations using green microalgae
  5. Decreasing CO2 emissions from the water industry using intensified processes

Areas of research:

Bio-electrochemistry Technology: Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) are a type of technology that enables wastewater treatment and electricity generation. MFCs utilise various organic electron donors under anaerobic conditions and directly transform chemical energy into electrical energy via a series of electrochemical reactions. I have studied the effect of different organic wastewaters, novel mediator compounds and organic loading rates on bioelectricity production, organic matter removal and microbial diversity. I am also interested into using Microbial Electrosynthesis for carbon dioxide transformation to longer chain organic molecules. In this area our group has conducted economic and sustainability evaluations, recently proving the feasibility of using bioelectrochemical reactors on fermentation tanks to convert CO2 waste emissions. To know more about this research visit: http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/sharon.velasquez-orta/

Bio-fuel Production: Biofuel can be produced from wastewater sludge and microalgae using chemical (in situ transesterification), thermal (catalytic cracking) or biological processes. These two processes offer several advantages such as the elimination of the oil extraction step, potential improvement on biofuel yield, and reduction in the transportation of intermediate products. In situ transesterification is utilised for biodiesel production while catalytic cracking can produce several types of biofuels such as methane, biodiesel and jet fuel. To know more about this field of research visit: http://pig.ncl.ac.uk

Sustainable Engineering Systems: Collaboration with SECURE (Self Conserving Urban Environments): Life cycle analysis to determine the energy use and carbon emissions produced during the transportation, treatment and final disposal of solid wastes, wastewater produced in the North East of England. To know more about this research visit: https://www.secure-project.org/

Graduated PhD students:

  • 2012-2015 Dr. Kamoru Salam, Reactive extraction of algal biomass
  • 2013-2016 Dr. Xenia Christodoulou, Microbial electrosynthesis for CO2 conversion



Teaching

2017 Hydrocarbon production and process engineering (CME8022, MSc Pipeline Engineering). Leader 80%, 10 credits

2016 Energy Sources and Storage (CME8055, MSc in Mechanical Engineering ).  25%, 10 credits

2015 Experimental Design (CME2026, BEng/MEng in Chemical Engineering) Module leader 100%, 5credits

2014, 2015 Transfer Processes 2 (CME2022, BEng/MEng in Chemical Engineering) 50%, 20credits

2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 Biomass and Waste Technology (SPG8008, MSc in REFLEX) 15%, 10credits

2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 Process Economics (CME 3032, BEng/MEng Chemical Engineering) 23%, 15credits

2012 & 2014, 2015, 2016 Plant Design (CME3039, BEng/MEng in Chemical Engineering) 5%, 40credits

2013 Separation Processes 1 (CME2022, BEng/MEng in Chemical Engineering) 15%, 10 credits

2012 Delivered two lectures in pollution monitoring (CME 8010, MSc in Clean Technology)

2012 Delivered two lectures in sustainable industry (CME8038, MSc in Clean Technology)

2010 Delivered a lecture in microalgae processing to master students in clean technology.

2010 Delivered a lecture on microbial fuel cells for energy generation to master students in environmental geochemistry.

2006-2010 Delivered lectures and conducted laboratory demonstrations on different courses in the MSc in Environmental Engineering programme.

Publications