Creating value out of waste not only encourages a circular economy but also mitigates the ill-effects of garbase landfills that emit toxic gases !

Gokulakannan Senthilvelan, our next pathbreaker, Chemical Process Design Engineer – R&D at X2Fuels and Energy Pvt ltd., an IIT Madras based startup, works on valorization of wastes into useful chemicals and fuels.

Gokul talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his research based masters program (Sustainable Energy) at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology which introduced him to future technologies such as biofuels, hydrogen, and natural gas.

For students, you should endeavor to become experts in developing such ground breaking technologies that address the waste related problems that we face today.

Gokul, can you tell us about your background?

I hail from the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Since my childhood, my parents wanted me to be a holistic person. Hence, I was enrolled in music, cricket and was also an active member in extracurricular activities at my school apart from studies. I had a keen interest in Physics & Chemistry subjects. After securing a decent score in the board exams, I went on to pursue Chemical Engineering from AC Tech, Anna University.

What did you do for graduation/ post-graduation?

I did my BTech in Chemical engineering after my schooling. During my bachelors, I strengthened my fundamentals in thermodynamics, heat and mass transfer. I developed interests in physics-based simulations as well. Towards the end of my graduation, I chose to pursue higher studies specializing in Process Modelling & Simulation. Subsequently, I scored good points in IELTS and got admitted to The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway. There I pursued a research-based master’s program in Sustainable Energy. 

What were some of the influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

Norway is one of the Scandinavian countries, renowned for its egalitarian societal structure. The university where I studied, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, is a state owned university charging no tuition fees for the students from abroad. It is one of the top 200 ranked universities across the world. And is one of the top ranked universities in the field of chemical and sustainable engineering. The quality of education is top notch and it is a study friendly university.

I felt that there are many problems to be addressed in the field of sustainable energy to make it cost effective. And it is certainly the need of the hour as well. This made me curious and influenced me to choose the course in Sustainable Energy – Natural gas.

Tell us about your career path

My master’s program introduced me to research on future technologies such as biofuels, hydrogen, and natural gas. I got an opportunity to do an industrial master’s thesis with Equinor Research Centre, Norway. I got this opportunity through one of my professors at the university. There I had a unique opportunity to help the industry in establishing a novel technology to reduce energy consumption and thus the operating cost. 

Equinor is a state-owned oil company. The thesis I worked on was on a novel technology called Gas-2-Pipe process. Aim of the process was to reduce the energy consumption of the natural gas drying process. My work focused on modelling the process using MATLAB & Aspen Hysys software tools and validate that with the existing experimental results. 

How did you get your first break?

During my masters, I decided that I wanted to pursue my career in R&D roles, working on new technologies. I passed out in 2020 during Covid. Like many others, I was also hard hit by the pandemic. I was not able to secure a job right after my masters due to various Covid related restrictions. I was disappointed, but I promised to not let myself down. From 2021 – 2022 March, I enrolled in taking additional online courses from the university where I did my masters. I believe my first break was in April 2022 when I secured a job at IIT Madras based startup named X2Fuels & Energy as a Chemical Process Engineer.  The aim of the company is to develop thermochemical technologies to convert waste into fuel & energy.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Negativity: During the covid times, there was a lot of negativity around every one of us. Adding to that, I was jobless as well. However, I chose to focus on improving my skills during these times. And I firmly believed that with time and hard work, I will end up where I want to be.

Homesick during masters: I was introduced to a new environment during my masters. And this was my first time away from my parents as well. Adding to that, the weather conditions were harsh in Norway. Lot of credit goes to my roommate who helped me to navigate during these times. He helped me to understand that the current situation will improve and the end results are more rewarding and are worth all the hardships that we face right now. Today I am grateful for his support

Where do you work now? Tell us about your current role

I work at an IIT Madras based startup X2Fuels & Energy. I work on valorization of wastes into useful chemicals and fuels. My typical workday involves conducting experiments at the laboratory and validating that with computer-based simulations. I developed the ability to conduct research studies during my masters.

The opportunity to work in both academia and also in industry is something which I really love about my job.

How does your work benefit society? 

My work will help in reducing the garbage landfills to a great extent. Most importantly, a value is created out of wastes. This will help us to experience clean and better living conditions. This also paves the way to moving towards a circular economy (recycling things to useful products)

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Not yet!

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Enjoy your schooling. Enjoy the process of doing things. Certainly, you will end up reaching your goals. Don’t compare yourself with others. Always strive for excellence. There is no substitute for honesty and dedication.

Future Plans?

I endeavor to become one of the pioneers in developing a ground breaking technology to solve the waste related problems that we face today. I would like to stay relevant and passionate towards research and development. Along with my professional growth, I strive to become a better person as well.