Sustainable Process Engineering — Gabriela Valles
Alumna Story - Gabriela Valles
After obtaining her degree in chemical engineering, Gabriela Valles worked as an environmental engineer at Greenpaper, where she led a team of 10 people to operate the water treatment plant for a paper recycling facility. She then moved into a chemical sales position where she worked with paper manufacturing plants to help her clients improve operational efficiency and decrease energy use.
“I liked that it was a one-year, course-based program oriented to people who already have considerable industry experience. And the fact that it balances business and technical coursework seemed very valuable.”
Learning how to develop sustainable processes and businesses
The MEL in Sustainable Process Engineering offers a wide range of engineering classes that enable students to gain the knowledge needed to develop cleaner products and processes. These include courses in techno-economic analysis, energy engineering and process synthesis, as well as electives on electrochemistry or carbon capture and sequestration.
In the Venture Design Lab, students designed an entire process to evaluate the economic and technical feasibility of using Betulin, a substance found in Birch bark, as a fire retardant that has the benefits of fewer environmental and health effects than conventional products. Their analysis showed that Betulin is a financially feasible alternative, with a production cost of almost half that of the cheapest products in the market.
The Technology Commercialization course was also impactful.
“It is one thing to have an idea for product or process,” says Gabriela. “It is another to successfully scale it up from a lab to an industrial plant. This course equipped us with the knowledge to do that – including covering topics related to funding and intellectual property.”
“This gave me the practical tools needed to learn to work as a team and to learn how to lead.”
The three-week business acumen course offered in the summer was a “valuable bombardment of ideas” as students covered modules on everything from finance to human resources, from marketing to contract management.
Industry networking session leads to a job
Towards the end of the school year, MEL staff organized a networking session attended by leading companies across various industry sectors that were looking for professionals with technical experience and business knowledge.
“I met some representatives from Paper Excellence and we stayed in touch over the next few months,” says Gabriela.
“The knowledge I gained in the Biomass Fractionation Technologies course was very useful for this project, and the other courses – including Analytics & Interpretation for Applied Sciences and the accounting and finance modules from the business acumen course – have also helped me in this role.”
She works on continuous improvement projects, many of them focused on safety or environmental performance, such as exploring strategies to reduce water use in a mill. “One of the most interesting projects was on changing production in a paper machine to go from newsprint to a different kind of paper. The knowledge I gained in the Biomass Fractionation Technologies course was very useful for this project, and the other courses – including Analytics & Interpretation for Applied Sciences – have also helped me in this role.”
Gabriela advises students to make full use of the professional development opportunities outside of the classroom.
“Go to all the workshops and networking events you can,” she says. “Take advantage of all the support that’s available, like sessions on getting your resume ready.”
It was a positive year for Gabriela, with a relatively easy transition from her native Mexico to the rainier and greyer city of Vancouver.
“The MEL program creates an environment where you meet so many people that are at the same stage of life,” she says. “You can create really good friendships, and that makes it a lot easier to be away from home.”
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Sustainable Process Engineering
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