Interview of Prof. Malick Kane, Head of LTE
Prof. Malick Kane of the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR) developed the Thermal and Energy Laboratory (LTE), now part of the Smart Living Lab research infrastructures. He joined the ENERGY Institute in 2014 after a diverse career in entrepreneurship, industry and academia.
Before coming to Fribourg, you participated in various research projects and even founded your own company. What has been the common thread running through your career?
I have a background in both industry and academia. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit on the one hand and a passion for teaching and research on the other. Teaching continues to be an important part of my career, and I have been able to combine this activity, as well as my studies (UCAD in Dakar, HEIG-VD in Yverdon, EPFL in Lausanne, LBNL in Berkeley), with applied research, which I initially did for existing institutes, then for my own Lausanne-based company, Eneftech Innovation SA, founded in 2004.
"Teaching and research are highly complementary activities, in my opinion"
Teaching and research are highly complementary activities, in my opinion. They feed into each other and grow symbiotically. That is why my teaching subjects are aligned with my research interests, namely: energy conversion and production (power plants, heat pumps, renewable energy systems), advanced thermodynamics, energy integration and optimization.
Energy is therefore the common denominator of all of my professional activities. The creation of the Thermal and Energy Laboratory in collaboration with the Smart Living Lab is another important step on this path.
The energy sector is vast. What particular field are you interested in?
Renewable energy. My work began when the field was still young. I did a lot of work on solar energy in the 90s, as part of my Diploma of Advanced Studies. There wasn't much interest in solar energy at the time. This is precisely what I’m passionate about: pioneering new energy technologies. I think it's exciting to break new ground, to push the frontiers of knowledge and practice.
"I am delighted to see that solar installations work so well nowadays"
I am delighted to see that solar installations work so well nowadays—nobody doubts their usefulness anymore. This giant leap forward encourages me to continue doing research in the field of renewable energy. My focus is currently on emerging technologies, such as smart thermal networks, that have the potential to address urgent needs in our communities.
What new challenges do you want to take up today?
I would like the energy transition to become a reality. I participated in the development of hybrid solar power plants during my time as researcher at the EPFL, and what I found particularly exciting about this technology was that it represented a compromise between state-of-the-art innovation and real-world constraints. Back then, solar installations were expensive and technically complex, which made hybrid solutions the best way to implement them on existing infrastructure. This was a pioneering concept at the time. It opened solar energy to a whole new range of contexts and applications. To give an example, it led to integrated solar energy development projects in Morocco.
"We believe that the energy transition should be an eXergy transition"
Hybrid solar systems have had plenty of success since then. Now my research team is focused on energy efficiency and the concept of eXergy. We believe that the energy transition should be an eXergy transition. The “X” in eXergy is capitalized in reference to the names of our future projects. We wish to innovate not only in terms of technological solutions, but also in the systemic approach to energy challenges. This involves work on complex system modelling, implementing robust methodological tools, and developing platforms for energy optimization and decision aids.
My constant goal is to turn theory into practice in order to meet the needs of users and industry. “New network concepts” are theoretical and rarely have a wide impact—sustainable technology becomes tangible only when it is implemented. That is why a key challenge in the field renewable energy is to find processes that can turn complex research into simple solutions.
To reach these objectives, our research is structured around three axes:
- Energy conversion efficiency in sustainable buildings and neighborhoods.
- Design and development of decentralized energy systems.
- Energy system integration and optimization.
"We also want to contribute to a sustainable transformation of African countries thanks to technology transfer"
Our projects aim to support the sustainable development of European cities through the use of smart thermal networks, but we also want to contribute to a sustainable transformation of African countries thanks to technology transfer with our partners, the Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique de Dakar, the University Gaston Berger and the 2IE Engineering School of Burkina Faso. These collaborations promote projects that can have a real impact.
We work across cantonal and even national borders. Our main industrial partners are Groupe E in Switzerland and Engie Réseaux (SCDC) in France, and on the academic side we work closely with the Relief network of the HES-SO in Switzerland, the University of Savoie Mont-Blanc in France, where our doctoral student Yolaine Adihou comes from, and the University of Trois Rivières in Canada.
Interview: Sofia Marazzi, ENERGY Institute (HEIA-FR)