Ir Alicia An is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Energy and Environment, City University of Hong Kong and joined the HKIE in September 2014. Living and working in the Asia’s most cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong, as a female professional engineer, Korean expat, and teacher, Alicia is striving for balance in career life. This is about experience sharing on career building as an environmental engineer.
Recently, K-Pop and Korean Dramas are popular in Hong Kong, but back in the 80s to 90s, Hong Kong movies were one of the top ticket sellers in the Korea’s cinemas. Alicia grew up with watching a lot of Hong Kong movies and was attracted by this colorful and chaotic city with mixed cultures. When she had a chance to study at HKUST, she submitted the application without any hesitation. During her PhD study, she addressed the issue of waste and sludge generation in Hong Kong and shortage of landfill space in near future. She received PhD from HKUST and dissertation on sludge minimisation mechanism in Oxic-Settling-Anaerobic process in wastewater treatment system was well received and cited.
Ir An spent four years as a faculty member at the University of Tokyo before joining City University in 2014 and has conducted several research projects focused on sustainable water management and urban development with a core concept in Sustainability. Apart from classroom teaching, she has organised field exercises in Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong and China in cooperation with the partner universities in Asia to broaden the student perspectives and cultivate an on-the-ground competency to identify and resolve environmental problems through hands-on experience. It was really challenging as the work involved in trans-disciplinary approach and there was often a need to discuss with different stakeholders.
Back to Hong Kong, Ir An has shared her experience from Japan and Korea with HKIE members on waste management as Hong Kong is facing tremendous pressure due to shortage of landfills. She is a member of the Association of Energy Engineers and holds a Certified Carbon Auditor Professional. With support from HK Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF), she is going to organize international conference on food waste in 2015.
As a water engineer, her current research interest lies in the multi-sourcing urban water harvest including seawater desalination and rainwater harvesting. Though the earth’s water is everywhere in the air, clouds, rivers, oceans, ice, and inside the earth, only a small portion is available for fresh water as 97% of water is saline and in the oceans. That is why in Hong Kong, we cannot drink water from nearby Victoria Harbor leading to the import of nearly 70-80% of fresh water from Dongjinag River in Guangdong province. Currently, reverse osmosis (RO) membranes are commonly used for seawater desalination. Using semipermeable membranes, RO can remove many types of molecules and ions from solutions, but a problem in the application of RO for seawater desalination is also its high electric energy consumption to produce high pressure (up to 70 bar) for RO and its sensitivity to fouling, which results in a decrease in filtrate flux and salt rejection. Ir Alicia An’s another challenging work in Hong Kong will be ‘How can we overcome these technical limitations which make desalination expensive and difficult to implement?’ Indeed, the emergence of water innovation around the world has increased the investment in new water technologies and we are now looking at the novel technologies that have the potential to achieve sustainability for desalination. Next generation of desalination has goals to achieve: increase water recovery (reduce brine/concentrate), low energy and resource (minerals) recovery.
Being a new HKIE member, Ir Alicia An is enjoying continual learning; sharing her engineering knowledge, creativity, and curiosity; and communicating for a better environment of Hong Kong.