The following stories from France, The Gambia, Georgia and Germany are extracts from the booklet 'Women in the Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Industry."
INA COLOMBO (FRANCE)
After obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in energy engineering in 2008 at the Raoul Georges Nicolo technical high school (Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory), I decided to continue my academic studies in France and undertook a Higher National Diploma (HND) in thermal and energy engineering. After obtaining my diploma in 2000, I decided to go to England for one year to improve my English. To my great surprise, I found in the United Kingdom a real land of welcome with great cultural diversity and multiple professional opportunities.
In 2001, I decided to complete my previous qualifications with a Bachelor’s degree in Building Services Engineering, followed by a Master’s degree in Sustainable Energy Systems. In parallel with my Bachelor’s degree, I was lucky enough to get an industrial work placement at the House of Commons working as a trainee energy manager of the parliamentary estate. I managed to write my final dissertation on “The Combined Heat and Power Unit in the Houses of Parliament». My role was to understand why the existing CHP plant installed in the parliamentary estate coupled with an absorption chiller was not working.
After this, I went to work for AMEC as a Building Services Project Manager on Heathrow’s Terminal 5, designing and supervising the installation of air-conditioning of baggage control rooms. In parallel, I studied for my Master’s and also worked as a sustainability consultant for the Building Design Partnership working on Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and Ecohomes assessments, feasibility studies on CHP and as energy manager of the Design Partnership building. In total, I worked for five years as a junior engineer in design offices and contracting companies, and in the weld in national and international companies.
- “I investigated how to reduce the direct and indirect emissions of supermarkets. The work I did ended up identifying how to reduce CO2 emissions by 35%.”
In 2007, I started a PhD in Sustainable Refrigeration Engineering at London South Bank University (LSBU) full-time. My duties at LSBU involved the development of a novel carbon dioxide refrigeration system starting from the design, supervising the construction and commissioning and undertaking the testing of the experimental prototype. I investigated how to reduce the direct and indirect emissions of supermarkets. I targeted retail stores’ energy consumption and carbon emissions using the data from monitoring systems. Furthermore, I worked on innovations in heat recovery for heating, hot water and absorption chilling from a retail application, which were used in Tesco and Sainsbury’s as case studies. The work I did ended up identifying how to reduce CO2 emissions by 35%.
Part of my PhD studies included the project management and development of a new laboratory space, which included the installation of my CO2 system and a new 30m2 environmental chamber at South Bank University.
During my thesis, I disseminated the results of my research at international conferences, in the specialized press and in academic journals. I coordinated the development of two research laboratories and piloted research projects funded by the European Commission and companies. I also taught Applied Engineering and refrigeration at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at my university to supplement my income.
After obtaining my PhD, I continued to work for three years in postdoctoral research while being actively involved in the activities of the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR) to promote the refrigeration industry and attract a diverse young audience. For example, I developed and led, with Catarina Marques, the International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) students’ and young researchers’ network that takes place every four years during the IIR congress in collaboration with the IOR. The next one will take place at the 25th International Congress of Refrigeration (ICR2019) in Montreal.
In 2013 I joined the International Institute of Refrigeration as the Deputy Director-General. Basically, my role is to promote the refrigeration industry worldwide, as well as being responsible for European and internationally funded projects as the dissemination partner of consortiums.
I am the secretary of two IIR working groups: Cold Chain in Hot Countries and Careers in Refrigeration, “CaRe”. The CaRe working group led by Dr Catarina Marques aims to make refrigeration and air conditioning more visible to the general public and inspire a young generation to join this exciting weld. Another goal is to increase both the cultural diversity and the numbers of women in refrigeration. Since its inception CaRe has had a presence at five international conferences held in Europe, Asia and the USA.
An academic paper on Women in Refrigeration has been drafted and presented at the ASHRAE (the former American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers) Winter Conference 2017. This paper highlights the research carried out into the state of women’s representation in the industry by collecting information from national refrigeration institutions and associations. I strongly promote the IIR services, publications and activities in developing countries, in particular in Africa. Recently, I was involved in the HCFC Phase out Management Plans (HPMP) Road Show in the Republic of South Africa organized by its Department of Environmental Affairs and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). My role was to explain the European Fluorinated Gases (F-Gas) Regulations to the attendees from the public and private sectors.
I enjoy making a difference in people’s lives, particularly in developing countries. Energy problems in developing countries prevent people from having a fridge, which makes life very difficult. We take this for granted in Europe and forget what it would be like without refrigeration. One of the great aspects of working in this industry is the opportunity to travel and mix with different cultures. For instance, this year I have been to China, Canada, the USA, Africa and over much of Europe. I never knew I would travel so much when I started out in Guadeloupe.
ELLEN SAMBOU (THE GAMBIA)
I was motivated by one of my uncles, who advised me to study refrigeration and air-conditioning when I completed my high school education in 2009. He was head of a RAC unit in a popular company in The Gambia. I enrolled at the Gambia Technical Training Institute in September 2009, where I did a certificate course and then proceeded to the diploma level in 2010, which I completed in July 2011.
I went on internship at the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia for six months, where I had a lot of experience working on different cooling systems.
I spent six months on an internship with Coca Cola Company The Gambia, where I was employed in the RAC unit of the company. I worked for one year and then left the company for Dakar, Senegal. Since my return, I have worked as a field technician.
I have attended training workshops on good refrigerant handling practice as a technician, organized by the Ozone Unit of the National Environment Agency.
NINA MAGLAKLIDZE (GEORGIA)
I have always been interested in technical devices since early adolescence. Therefore, after graduating from secondary school I continued my studies at the Tbilisi Trade College, where I graduated in 1981 with a technical qualification in Refrigeration. In the same year, I started working for the “Universalservisi” company, where I still work now.
At the beginning I was an engineer-technologist for servicing refrigeration and air conditioning systems, then I became a manager of the workshop, and now I work as Deputy General Director. In 1988 I graduated from the Georgian Polytechnic Institute with a degree in Refrigeration and Compressor machines and installations and gained the qualification of Mechanical Engineer. I love my profession and I have always supported the introduction of new technologies in our company. Especially since the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the reduction in refrigerants emissions into the atmosphere has become an urgent issue in Georgia, which was a part of the Soviet Union at that time. When our country became independent, Georgian specialists became responsible for updating the national RAC sector so that it functioned safely for the environment.
I considered, and I consider now, that it is my duty to contribute to the fulfilment by Georgia of the commitments made in the Montreal Protocol. Therefore along with my main work I spend a lot of time in public work. Since the establishment of a non-governmental, non-profit organization known as the Georgian Association of Refrigerating, Cryogenic and Air Conditioning Engineers (GARCAE) I have been an active member, and since 2010 I have been president of the NGO.
Together with GARCAE I participated in the successful implementation of the Montreal Protocol with projects like the Refrigeration Management Plan (RMP), RMP Update, and the Terminal Phase-out Management Plan (TPMP) managed by the National Ozone Unit of Georgia. At present, I am engaged in the use of natural refrigerants in our country. This was also the topic of my doctoral dissertation, for which I received my doctorate in 2016. In addition, I conduct training for trainers and technicians in good practices in Refrigeration as well as training customs officers in the identification of refrigerants.
- “We need to actively upgrade the technicians’ skills and consumers’ awareness of the safe use of natural refrigerants.”
As a teacher at the “Spectri” professional colleges, I also teach a new generation of technicians in Georgia’s RAC sector. I want to emphasize that in my work I have always enjoyed great attention and support from my colleagues, at my main workplace and at the GARCAE NGO as well as from the staff of the NOU of Georgia. I am very grateful to all of them and I am also grateful to the United Nations agencies – UNEP, UNDP, UNIDO – that help our country to phase out environmentally harmful refrigerants. In fact, Georgia needs help like many developing countries. This issue has been especially acute since the adoption of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Georgia should already be preparing for the implementation of the HFC phase-out schedule. But these refrigerants are used very widely in Georgia in all sub-sectors, and their replacement by natural alternatives is complex not only from a financial point of view but also in terms of technical safety and end-user mentality. From my point of view, and many of my colleagues agree with me, we need to actively upgrade the technicians’ skills and consumers’ awareness of the safe use of natural refrigerants through meetings, conferences, training and demonstration projects. I am sure that, together, we will overcome all the difficulties!
MONIKA WITT (GERMANY)
I decided to study mechanical engineering as it offers a wide range of possibilities: from pure research to design engineering, and from project management to the selling or purchasing of technical products. My first interest was rather in ecological engineering (i.e. recovery of soil and water by technical and biological treatment (my Masters’ thesis dealt with the de-nitrification of drinking water with bacteria). I applied for a job in applied technology for soil treatment at Messer Griesheim and after my interview ended up as a project engineer for air separation systems (a very low-temperature process). After working as project and also site engineer for air separation systems in Germany and the USA I returned to Germany and started in the family-owned refrigeration company in its 100th anniversary year. Since 1998 I have been managing director of this company, and responsible for the technical side.
- “Without refrigeration life’s conveniences are not possible.”
I found it very rewarding working as an engineer, as women are rather unexpected and this offers many more opportunities than challenges. Men are curious to see whether a woman knows her business, but then impressed and eager to support. Particularly at the construction site, men are very helpful and supportive. Overall, I have never regretted being an engineer, particularly in the refrigeration industry.
Industrial refrigeration contributes to a good life, as it makes it possible to provide fresh products in a safe manner around the world, and enables numerous technologies, not only for the food industry but also the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Without refrigeration life’s conveniences are not possible.
My company produces products for the industrial refrigeration industry, such as refrigerant pumps, high side float regulators, pressure vessels and functional units. From the beginning, TH. WITT has supported natural refrigerants, mainly ammonia, but also carbon dioxide. Even when so-called “safety refrigerants” such as HCFCs were introduced, TH. WITT continued to promote natural refrigerants, (although its products were suitable for all refrigerants). TH. WITT has always recognized the energy efficiency of systems operated with ammonia and carbon dioxide.
Due to my position, I have also been active in the German Research Council, the board of directors of the VDMA and at Eurammon, where I served as Chairwoman for more than 10 years.