Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Staff Profile

Dr Sharon Velasquez Orta

Senior Lecturer

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

  • 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. Master in Environmental engineering courses.
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Advance Studies in Academic Practice Newcastle University, UK. Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. 
  • 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.
  • BEng in Chemical Engineering La Salle University, México. Thesis: Sequential and continuous industrial process simulation and control (Univ. of South Florida, USA).

Awards

  • Awarded 2nd prize in short presentation. 6th UK Algal Conference.
  • Recognised as a Leading Innovator under 35 by MIT Technology Review.  
  • Spotlight achievement award given by the School of Chemical Engineering 
  • Nominated to the Newcastle student achievement award in the environmental impact category.
  • 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

  • 2022 Co-I Innovate UK (£1.3M) SABRe Reactor (2 y).

  • 2022 Co-I European Commission (1.4M) Contested Territories (3 y).

  • 2022 PI UKRI (£6.3k)  Participatory Research in Bolivia and Peru (2 m).

  • 2022 Co-I BEIS grant for Phase 1 (£125k) of the Hydrogen BECCS Innovation Competition, Green biohydrogen production in liaison with Phoebus Power Ltd (6 m).

  • 2020 PI Returners support fund (£9.7k). Project to enhance research, teaching and inclusion in academia (6m).

  • 2017-2020 Co-I (£2.7M) ISCF Wave 1: North East Centre for Energy Materials (NECEM) (3y)

  • 2016-2017 PI Newton Fund (£80k). Collaboration with UNAM, Mexico: "Biofuel production from wastewater treatment" (1y)

  • 2018 Co-I C1Net Fund (£50k). Scalable engineering approaches for exploiting a novel biocomposite material applied to light-driven CO2 absorption and utilization (8 m).

  • 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

  • 2021 Affiliate member of iChemE
  • Since 2009 Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • 2007-2013 Affiliate Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • 2005-2013, 2021-current 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 by applying bioelectrochemical, biochemical 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.  

Google scholar citations

Scopus citations

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: converting carbon dioxide to valuable organic compounds
  2. Biofuel and biochemical production from wastes using microalgae
  3. Continuous monitoring of water pollution using self-reliant systems
  4. Novel wastewater treatment operations using 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. Here the application of microalgae is also of interest by studying its electrochemical properties. 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: Group Webpage (biore.site)

Bio-fuel Production: Biofuel can be produced from wastewater sludge and microalgae using chemical (in situ transesterification), thermal (catalytic cracking) or biological intensified processes. These 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: Most students that work in their project conduct life cycle analyses to determine the energy use and carbon emissions produced during the transportation, treatment and final disposal of solid wastes or  wastewater produced in different parts of the world. To know more about this research visit: 


Supervisor of the following graduated PhD students:

  • 2017- 2021 Dr. James Hockaday  Equilibrium and uptake kinetics of Copper and Cadmium ions by the microalgae, Chlorella vulgaris and Scenedesmus obliquus
  • 2016-2019 Dr. Tobechi Okoroafor, Environmental and experimental evaluation of producing chemicals from carbon dioxide using bioelectrochemical system
  • 2013-2016 Dr. Xenia Christodoulou, Microbial electrosynthesis for CO2 conversion
  • 2012-2015 Dr. Kamoru Salam, Reactive extraction of microalgae for biodiesel production



Teaching

2021-2022 Sustainable Industry (CME8038) 50%, 10credits.

2020-2022 Renewable Energy: Technology for circular and hydrogen economies (SPG8007) Leader 100%, 10credits. 

2011, 2012, 2014-2022 Renewable Energy: Biomass and Bioenergy (SPG8008) 30%, 10credits

2012, 2014-2022 Process Economics (CME 3032, BEng/MEng Chemical Engineering) Leader 34%, 15credits

2012 & 2014-2022 Plant Design (CME3039, BEng/MEng in Chemical Engineering) 5%, 40credits

2019-2022 Offshore subsea and pipeline engineering (MAR8091, MAR8141) 15%, 20credits

2017-2019 Hydrocarbon production and process engineering (CME8022, MSc Pipeline Eng). Leader 80%, 10credits

2016-2019 Energy Sources and Storage (CME8055, MSc in Mechanical Eng).  25%, 10credits

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

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

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

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