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“I get to work with some of the smartest people I’ve met”

Dr Louisa Brotherson is a carbon ratings scientist at BeZero Carbon

28 February 2024
A portrait of Dr Louisa Brotherson.

Dr Louisa Brotherson, carbon ratings scientist, BeZero Carbon

Tell us about your work as a carbon ratings scientist

BeZero Carbon is a carbon ratings agency, and we evaluate risk within carbon removal, avoidance, and reduction projects. As a carbon ratings scientist, I try to determine how likely the projects are to successfully remove or avoid producing a tonne of carbon. We use a scale from AAA, which is the most likely, to D, the least likely. That rating tells you our opinion of how effective the carbon removal project will be and the likelihood of actually achieving those figures. My role is in engineered carbon removals, which is any project that uses engineering to remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as direct air capture, which is like a vacuum that sucks carbon out of the atmosphere, and biochar, which involves taking biomass and heating it in the absence of oxygen.

How does your PhD in seismology relate to your work?

For my PhD, I focused on the area of slip during an earthquake. We don’t have a massive drill that can take us underground, so we use earthquake source properties, like corner frequency and magnitude (which have quite high uncertainty) to analyse faults. I simulated fault slip in the lab and measured lab-generated earthquakes to understand how changes in frictional properties affect the radiated wave fields. Carbon removal has links with seismology and geoscience because many carbon removal methods involve injecting carbon into rocks. Something that we do a lot of as geoscientists is assessing risk. For example, I can assess a direct air capture project that might involve the injection of carbon into, say, basalt. I can ask: Is the site suitable? Is that injection likely to reactivate faults? How can we monitor seismicity? So there are a lot of direct links between my PhD and my job. There are also transferable skills from my PhD: source management, data analysis, synthesising ideas, and writing. Presentation skills are also a massive part of my day-to-day work.

What advice would you give to aspiring researchers and climate scientists?

To any geoscientists thinking about transitioning into the climate industry: it’s super exciting – don’t be afraid to work for young companies and start-ups. BeZero Carbon started during the pandemic and created new, green jobs that didn’t exist years ago. As geoscientists, we have so many skills that are really viable in this sector, particularly in engineered carbon removals. We definitely need more geoscientists. Reach out to anyone in the field, including me.

What’s a typical day for you?

At the moment, my day involves reading academic papers and project documents and pulling out the relevant information, analysing data, making graphs, and then combining all of this together into a report. Aside from project work, a lot of my work is collaborative. For example, all our processes are peer reviewed, in a similar way to the peer-review process for publications in academia.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

I get to work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, from such a wide range of backgrounds. We have climate scientists, biologists, engineers, and even someone who worked at NASA, and it is amazing to have this variety on my team. I really love that we’ve all come together to try and solve, in my opinion, the greatest problem of our age. Lots of people in the business – I think roughly a sixth – have PhDs, so BeZero Carbon really understands the merits that PhD researchers bring to a role. That helped me to feel like my opinion was respected and heard.

Listen to the full conversation in the 5 minutes with Louisa Brotherson podcast

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