Dr Robert Leah
MEng Chemical Engineering with Environmental Management, 1997
Research Fellow, Ceres Power Ltd
I coordinate a team of engineers and scientists to develop the next generation of Ceres Power's world-leading Solid Oxide Fuel Cell and Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cell technology. As Research Fellow I have considerable freedom to initiate R&D projects where I think useful improvements to the technology could be achieved.
What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
I have been instrumental in the development of Ceres Technology since the very beginning of the company when it was a tiny spinout from Imperial College London 20 years ago. Thanks to a combination of the outstanding technology we have developed and the urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions, the technology is now being commercialised at a large scale and the company is now a multibillion-pound enterprise. Whilst there is always room for improvement (hence my day-to-day work), that comes with a considerable sense of achievement.
How did your time at University help you start your career?
The technical content of my degree was a key enabler for the series of career steps leading to my current role.
What made you interested in your current role?
I have been passionate about climate change issues long before it was fashionable, and always wanted to do something in the energy industry to reduce emissions. I also have a real passion for research, and my current role enables me to do both.
How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?
I graduated from Birmingham in 1997 and went on to do a PhD in electrochemical engineering at Imperial College London. Largely by chance, I started working on solid oxide fuel cell technology at ALSTOM in Stafford, who then had a corporate research project on it. After a couple of years, one of my PhD supervisors at Imperial set up a spinout to develop some novel SOFC technology, which I moved to join. I have been pretty much instrumental in the development of that technology from a non-functional (it turned out after I joined!) lab prototype to today's volume production by household-name companies, so I never left and have had a series of senior technical roles ever since. I'm now also a Fellow of the IChemE and do some voluntary work for the institution.
What motivates you?
On both a personal and professional level, I believe passionately in the development of a fairer and more sustainable economy. I also drive steam trains in my spare time....
Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
I attended an introductory course as a sixth-former and was very impressed by the department and campus, which was and still is one of the best in the country.
Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?
I was heavily involved with various Green activities at the Guild, and also was a regular member of the Guild sound and lighting crew for gigs and club nights.
What advice would you give to current students studying on your degree programme?
The content of your lectures will be much harder than A levels in the first year (that's normal), and keep a steady supply of caffeine for finishing your final year design project at 4am....