The Future of Clean Energy

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Through her engineering and economic courses as part of the Energy, Economics, and Environment minor at Illinois Institute of Technology, Lizz Elliott has learned the importance of nuclear energy as a gateway for transitioning to clean energy. “Nuclear energy is the best route to begin this transition because nuclear is the most reliable, resilient, and sustainable source of energy in today’s market,” she says.

Starting as a third-year undergraduate, Lizz has been doing research with Jeff Terry, professor of physics and materials science and engineering, in collaboration with . Lizz’s project focuses on optimizing tristructural isotropic, or TRISO, fuel particles— tiny pellets of uranium, carbon, and oxygen that are expected to be used in many advanced nuclear reactor designs.

She studies the outer shell of the TRISO fuel particles, looking at how to improve the design to decrease the likelihood that radioactive materials will escape and put nuclear plant workers at risk. Lizz was one of 50 undergraduate students in the country to receive a 2020 Nuclear Energy University Program scholarship from the United States Department of Energy. It includes an award amount of $7,500, which Lizz says will allow her to immerse herself in additional research opportunities that she previously didn’t have the time or the expenses to do. “Receiving this award really solidified that I know that I’m on the right path, my goals and passions are worth the investment, and I am more than capable of being successful after I graduate,” she says. This summer she is working as an intern in the grain, oil, and biofuels division of , an Ecolab company. She’s been working in ethanol and ethanol by-product plants all across Iowa and learning the importance of proper water treatment to industrial processes. “I’m loving getting to go to plants every day and seeing what it’s like to really work in the field,” she says. “There’s something about getting my hands dirty and physically seeing and experiencing everything I’ve been learning at school that excites me!” Lizz says she was drawn to Illinois Tech for its focus on sustainability and clean energy. “I want to go into the clean energy sector, and finding a school that offered courses in renewable energy engineering and research was very important to me,” she says. “The future world that I will live in and that future generations must survive in is currently in danger,” says Lizz, noting that when taking on the future of energy, there is a lot at stake. “I take this responsibility fervidly and in the hope that in my lifetime, I will contribute to a better, more sustainable world.”

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