Christopher Hillebrand

Student Spotlight - Christopher HillebrandWhat is your educational background?

I received my undergraduate degree from Tennessee Technological University in the area of Chemical Engineering with a minor in Analytical Chemistry. It was early on in my undergraduate program that I was exposed to the manufacturing process associated with photovoltaics and as a result became fascinated with the entire renewable energy industry. Once I graduated with my Bachelor’s, I immediately continued my education at TTU by pursuing a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance. With a diversified background in both engineering and business, it was my goal to give myself the distinct ability in industry to not only evaluate projects on whether or not they will physically work, but also if they are cost effective for both the consumer and the company. During this year, I supplement my business courses with individual research into the various fields of renewable energy to see which technologies I felt had the brightest future for a career.

What made you decide to pursue Energy Systems?

Given my gripping interest in renewable energy, a formal education in Energy Systems was a natural next step for my career path. A majority of the population recognizes the merit of implementing more renewable energy systems into both public and private grids, however relatively few understand all of the driving forces that exist in the industry that need to be navigated in order to make this goal of widespread sustainable energy generation become a reality. By studying Energy Systems, I hoped to equip myself with all the tools I would need to be someone who could play a part in the energy transition to come in the next few decades. 

Did you consider other institutions for the program, and why did you choose Illinois?

When looking to continue my education, I considered several programs of study before finally deciding on UIUC. For me, the biggest two factors that I was looking for in a program was freedom of choice in curriculum and focus on preparation for industry; two areas where UIUC shines. As a student in the Energy Systems program, you are allowed to tailor basically your entire schedule to whatever your interests might be as long as you have a suitable background and it’s justifiable within your stated focuses. For me, this meant learning more about solar energy as well as electrochemical storage. This gives you the freedom to utilize the extensive course list at the school for whatever it is you’d like to learn in a professional setting. In addition to this, the program includes ample opportunities to develop those “soft skills” that are crucial in industry while also having access to the helpful career services department in finding that right job after graduation.

Have you considered what project you want to do as part of the degree program?

Considering my degree is developed with the purpose of giving me a coupled expertise in both solar energy and energy storage, I felt that it would be great to gain a more technical understanding in either of these for my project. I was lucky enough to be in contact with a former Energy Systems student prior to enrollment and inherited his project in the area of improving an energy storage device with renewable energy applications. More specifically, the project focuses in characterizing the effect of carbonate anions at varying concentrations, a naturally produced but unintended and negatively affecting side reaction, in the operation of NiFe Batteries. Once a comprehensive understanding is gained of the effect of carbonate on operation, the goal is to develop a separation process that can remove the negatively effecting carbonate from solution and improve the performance of the cells. 

What do you hope to do with the degree once you earn it?

I hope to be working at a dynamic and ambitious company that focuses on the development of solar energy systems and that provides the option of being connected to energy storage devices. The intermittent nature of renewables likely represents the largest problem facing their widespread implementation and working at a company that is at the forefront of this field would be both exciting and potentially highly profitable. I’d really like to be able to use my skills in both engineering and business (as I am also working on an MBA) and hopefully focus on identifying prime opportunities on a national or regional basis for profitable future development of solar and energy storage.

 

Update: Christopher is now an alum of the Energy Systems program.

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