Victoria Laila Neill

Victoria Laila Neill pictured on Isle of Skye

Being the difference: engineers protecting our planet

Climate change and its impact on human life is the dominant engineering challenge burdening my generation. Disasters such as the 2019 cyclones in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, 2020 Australian wildfires as well as severe floods across Southern Asia and continuous droughts of East Africa and Central America have destroyed landscapes, leaving its inhabitants devastated. The infrastructure that humans created, was wiped out. The natural beauty, crafted over billions of years by Earth, was shattered. But the aftermath on human life was even more extreme. Each event has resulted in a loss of homes, food, crops, water, and, even life. At its heart, climate change is a life-or-death struggle, and as engineers it is imperative that we confront it. 

We, as engineers are demanded to mitigate threatening global activities and adapt our practice to build a sustainable future. Our key focus has been on using renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is an expanding industry.

Victoria Laila Neill

I am the Executive of Watt Women in STEM, a female-focused society, and Vice-President of the Chemical Engineering Society. My roles are geared toward adapting the society to a changing STEM world.  

Be the difference

For Chemical Engineering, I organised an industrial panel to celebrate ‘This is Engineering Day' with a theme of ‘Be the difference' highlighting the diverse and cutting-edge career opportunities available, as well as discussing the significant ethical improvements that major engineering companies are making to their practice. I pioneered and sat as a panellist on our new ‘Be Future Made' global Watt Women in STEM panel series which focused on how female professionals in UK, Dubai and Malaysia are adapting to the fast-paced post-COVID world. We also discussed how to develop as a female entering a male-dominated pathway.  

To develop low carbon technology and produce innovative solutions, we need to ensure the uptake of STEM studies in school and university.  

As a STEM ambassador, I engage with high school and primary school students to teach them about science and my experience. These roles allow me to act as a role model to the future generation. Diversification of business is crucial to the maintenance and strengthening of a company and includes the people as well as products and technology. I hope that my continuous contribution influences the world by bringing a diverse and excited body of engineers to produce solutions to our global challenges.  

Product life-cycle

A crucial facet of my studies is sustainability. We learn how to analyse the life-cycle of a product, from harvest to decommission. This means considering resources required to make the product and dispose of it. Since chemical engineering encompasses a ‘big picture' approach, we use the assessment to establish environmental management systems and drive continuous improvement to achieve high corporate responsibility.

The UK government set a challenging target to be net zero by 2050 which means pioneering new technologies and collaboration in industry is necessary to achieve it. Net zero technologies are critical to this goal. An example is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). The premise of which is to use biomass to generate heat and power and capture and store the CO2 released, underground.

Biogas technology

In 2019, I undertook an individual research project on the utilisation of Bio-CNG, a purified form of biogas, at the Malaysia campus in association with the Malaysian government. I looked at ways to produce, purify, distribute and use Bio-CNG considering the resource availability of palm oil and the current accessibility of technology.

My research examined current Malaysia's suitability for the technology. The demanding task required me to meet the needs of an emerging developing country whose government ambition lay in changing its reliance on fossil fuels. Subsequently, to advance my research further, the attainability of carbon capture technology could be explored. Although imminent for the UK's future, it is a close possibility for Malaysia.  

We, as engineers are demanded to mitigate threatening global activities and adapt our practice to build a sustainable future. Our key focus has been on using renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is an expanding industry.

Outstandingly, 47% of the UK's electricity generation is provided by these with a substantial increase in solar. Insulation and combination engines have been deployed to improve energy efficiency. Social aspects such as promoting the use of local goods and services are also being encouraged. But the problem can't be solved by these. Every current aspect of the way in which humans interact with the world has repercussions on the planet, and hence we need to embrace net-zero carbon practices to diminish the negative consequences. 

For more information on the Chem Eng Society and the Watt Women in STEM Society, visit the Heriot-Watt student union societies webpage.