Anne Lyck Smitshuysen is an industrial PhD student at DTU in Department of Energy Conversion and Storage. She works at DynElectro ApS as fuel cell specialist.

Congratulations on receiving the Flemming Bligaard Award from Rambøll Fonden!

Please tell us about your research and why is it important.

As it is now, we are brilliant at producing sustainable energy, but we don’t have a sufficient way to store the excess energy, e.g., when wind turbines are generating electricity at night, not all of it is consumed as people are sleeping and therefore don’t use as much electricity as they do during the day.

I focus on energy conversion and storage using the technology called solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOECs). Out of the known electrolysis technologies, this is the most efficient type and in addition, the same cell can be used for both electrolysis and as a fuel cell, which is quite unique. Electrolysis will enable us as society to store the energy and convert it into synthetic fuels or back into electricity. One problem is the scalability of the electrolysis cells, and this research proposes a solution to the issues normally seen when upscaling the size of the SOECs i.e., fracturing, bulging and warping edges.

By making the electrolysis cells larger, we can save money on the surrounding materials, such as sealing and steel and thereby decrease the manufacturing costs significantly and make it cheaper to build large-scale electrolysis-plants.

The work consists of COMSOL modelling, ceramic processing and a huge literature study as there are many steps in the manufacturing of the ceramic SOECs. The Innovation Fund Denmark supports my ongoing industrial PhD at DynElectro ApS and DTU Energy, which evolves around refining the process of making the electrolysis cells larger. DynElectro expect to launch a commercial product by the time I finish my PhD.

Currently, I am working on computer models that examine the hypothesis that lead to the solution Rambøll granted the Flemming Bligaard Award for. Examining the underlying hypothesis will provide a better understanding of the problem and give insight into how the solution can be refined. 

What are your plans and what are the possibilities that this grant opens for you?

The plan now is to upscale the facilities at DynElectro and buy equipment for monitoring the process, so we can optimize the procedure and thereby ensure the same result time and time again.

As DynElectro is a start-up company, the Flemming Bligaard Award has enabled us to accelerate our timeline significantly and thereby enables us to realize our dream of upscaling the SOEC technology sooner than we thought possible.

With the award, Rambøll have invested a lot of hours in making press releases and spreading the word about the project, so our network has expanded drastically and opens up for new collaborations

Where have you studied and which positions have you held before your current one?

I did both my bachelor’s and master’s education at the Department of Physics at DTU.

During my bachelor’s I worked in the administration at DTU, but in the end of my bachelor’s I was hired in as a research assistant at DTU Energy in the group of Søren Højgaard Jensen, who’s now the CTO of DynElectro. I worked at DTU Energy until I went on maternity leave in 2019.
The day after I defended my master’s thesis, I started as a Fuel Cell Specialist at DynElectro, and I still hold the position of Fuel Cell Specialist today, even though I started my PhD back in September. 

How did you choose the field you are now specialized in?

I always wanted to contribute to a sustainable society, so I actually started on the master’s in Energy and Sustainability and planned to specialize in energy conversion and storage. After one semester, I missed the nerdy physics and realized how fond I was of learning fabrication techniques, characterization methods and the theory behind it all, so I started over and started on the master’s in Physics and Nanotechnology, where I specialized in sustainable energy.

What motivated you to study physics?

I figured out during high school that I wanted to work with fuel cells and electrolysis. As I didn’t know where to go to work with the technology, I attended an open house event at DTU. I had beforehand picked two educations I wanted to know more about – one of them was the education of physics and nanotechnology, and when I heard more about the education, I was convinced that physics was the right way to go.

My conviction was apparently so compelling that it inspired my husband, Thomas Erik Lyck Smitshuysen, to start studying physics too and he’s now doing his PhD at DTU Physics. We still motivate each other and enjoy discussing theory, experimental procedures and data representation. His support of what I do means the world to me.

Did you have a role model or mentor? If so, what inspiration did you get from them?

I have several, and the list is still growing. First off, I’m the youngest of four sisters and we all hold technical degrees. My mom is a teacher, teaching math and natural science and my dad is an engineer, so both my sisters and parents have been role models throughout my life.

In my professional life, Søren Højgaard Jensen, the CTO of DynElectro is the person who has had the greatest impact on my research career. We started collaborating back in 2017 and ever since, he has improved the way I think of myself as a scientist. His insight and visionary approach to physics and energy technologies keep being a constant inspiration to me. He supports me in every step of my journey, and I hold the utmost respect for him. Søren is the co-creator of the project and is now my company co-supervisor. 

In addition to Søren, I have an excellent supervisor team consisting of Karsten Klemens Hansen, Henrik Lund Frandsen and Bhaskar Reddy Sudireddy. They are remarkable scientists who inspire me, encourage me to examine and understand all aspects of the problem, challenge my way of thinking and enable me to become a better scientist than I am today.

The latest addition to my list is the Chief Commercial Officer of DynElectro Samantha Jane Philips, who has a background in energy engineering. I got to know her once I started at DynElectro. She is passionate and professional beyond measures. At the same time, she takes the time to mentor me in all aspects of the commercial world and encourages me to expand my horizon.

What advice would you give to young people (in particular women and minorities) who would like to pursue a career in science?

Don’t give up! It might seem impossible sometimes, you might feel like you don’t belong or like you’ll never get on the other side of your struggles, your confidence might be close to non-existing, but you can pull through if you are determined and take the time to do so. In relation to that, my favorite quote these days is from Samantha, saying “Everything is a learning opportunity!”.  So, no matter how bad the results might be, if you fail an exam or make a mistake at work, take the opportunity to learn from it, and become better at what you do – eventually you will excel.

Find someone who inspires you, sees your potential and challenges your way of thinking and then learn as much from them as you can.

I would like to take a moment to thank the people that constitute our amazing, innovative team at DynElectro. Together we are working towards a sustainable future.