Air quality affects everyone. It makes sense and it is a way to serve the greatest number of people.
Could you share a bit about your professional background?
Hélène B. After studying analytical chemistry, I arrived at ENGIE in 2013 as an intern. I worked on the development of technologies in the natural gas sector, the injection of new gases, such as biomethane, as well as air quality. I never imagined I would stay here for so long!
Why did you choose the energy sector?
Hélène B. My training in analytical chemistry allowed me to work in a variety of fields - energy, pharmaceutical, or the food production industry. I’m very interested in the environment, and I think that the energy sector must have a real impact to transition to a future of clean energy. The internship opened doors at ENGIE that really interested me. My interest in energy grew, and in particular the air quality projects I have worked on at CRIGEN.
Do you see being a woman in this sector, which we imagine to be quite male-dominated, as an asset or a handicap?
Hélène B. Being a woman has never caused me any concerns. I’ve never felt like this was not my place. Chemistry has more women than sectors like computer science or electronics.
In my experience, it's an asset to be a woman. You can show that technology is not only a men’s universe.
How do you see the future of energy and the world of tomorrow?
Hélène B. The two are linked. Energy will in part define the world of tomorrow.
I see the future of energy focused on the development of renewable energy and its efficiency. These two points are increasingly linked. For example, I'm currently working on solutions to improve air quality. For each solution, we assess its impact, so its efficiency, of course, but also how to find a balance in the consumption of energy. For certain solutions, the gain in air quality is not worth the cost in energy.
The future of energy will be new renewable energy sources such as hydrogen, biomethane, electricity and photovoltaics, but it must always take efficiency into account. We can’t develop a project just to make things "green". It needs to have a net positive impact across the value chain.
Do you think that women have a specific role to play in the push for carbon neutrality?
Hélène B. I have the impression that in everyday life, it is more often women pushing to make this a reality. The mental pressure and the "ecological burden" usually rests on their shoulders.
This role needs to be shared with men. Women should not be told, “Since you are a woman, it is up to you to do it.”
Is there a project you are particularly proud of?
Hélène B. Yes, I’m currently working on the BREATHE project with Adrien Caurant for the BU Cities & Communities. We are working to find technology that captures pollutants and places them in the right places to create clean air zones, which can allow cities to stay within pollution thresholds. Cities like Paris are trying to implement such actions to improve air quality, but it won’t have an impact right away.
The project is able to improve air quality right away, but this type of solution is not sustainable. We want to avoid reactions such as, "If we know how to reduce pollutants instantly, we don't need to do anything else,” because we must continue our work in parallel to take action that will reduce pollutants in the long term.
This project is close to my heart because air quality affects everyone. It makes sense and it is a way to serve the greatest number of people.
Do you have a message for other women?
Hélène B. Anything is possible. You should never hesitate to invest in science and technology. Women have a place there just as much as anyone else. Try your best to follow your dreams and don’t be afraid to to take on any new challenge.
Drawing: Marie Désert ©ADAGAP, Paris 2021
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