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Podcast: 5 minutes with Louisa Brotherson

28 February 2024

In this episode of 5 Minutes With, Marissa Lo (Assistant Editor) speaks to Dr Louisa Brotherson, a carbon ratings scientist at BeZero Carbon.

Dr Louisa Brotherson, carbon ratings scientist at BeZero Carbon. (Image credit: Louisa Brotherson).

Episode Transcript

[00:10] Marissa Lo: Hello, and welcome to Five Minutes With, a podcast by Geoscientist magazine. My name is Marissa Lo, and today I’m joined by Dr Louisa Brotherson from BeZero Carbon. Thanks for joining us, Louisa. What are you currently working on at BeZero Carbon?

[00:25] Louisa Brotherson: BeZero is a carbon ratings agency and we assess risk within carbon removal and avoidance and reduction projects. What that means is that we’re assessing different carbon credits, and these credits are traded within what’s known as the VCM, which is the voluntary carbon market. I am a carbon ratings scientist at BeZero Carbon. I assess different carbon credit projects. I try to determine how likely the projects are to remove or avoid a ton of carbon. So we use like an eight point scale: we have the highest, which is like the most likely, which is like a AAA, and then the lowest, which is like a D, which is the least likely. And that tells you our opinion of how effective they’ll be. And we’re basically assessing the likelihood that they’re actually meeting those tons so a project might say that we’ve removed 1000 tons, but then we were saying, is it highly likely that they’ve done it, or less likely? My particular role is in engineered carbon removals, so this is basically any product that uses engineering to remove carbon out the atmosphere – it’s kind of in the name! These are all sorts of methods, things such as direct air capture, which is like a vacuum that sucks carbon out the atmosphere, and we can store it durably in rocks. There’s also biochar, which is taking biomass and heating it in the absence of oxygen. There’s all these methods that we assess in engineered carbon removals, and that’s what I kind of look at.

[01:52] Marissa Lo: I know that your background and your PhD was in seismology. How do those experiences relate to your work now as a carbon ratings scientist?

[02:00] Louisa Brotherson: So the title of my PhD was called “Journey to the centre of the earthquake”. I was basically really interested in the area of slip during an earthquake, which is like, you know, we don’t have a massive drill that can take us underground, but because we don’t, we have to use earthquake source properties, things like corner frequency and magnitude and basically, there’s quite high uncertainty with these. So my project was simulating faults in the lab and measuring lab generated earthquakes to understand how changing the frictional properties affects the radiative wave fields. But then how does it relate to my work? Well, carbon removals has a lot of links to seismology and geosciences, because loads of carbon removal methods, like direct air capture, can involve injecting carbon into rocks. Also, something that we do a lot as geoscientists is assessing risk. So, for example, I can assess a direct air capture project and if they’re injecting this into, say, basalt rocks, then you have to have a think: is the site actually suitable? What have they used to characterise the site? And then also is that injection likely to reactivate faults? And then also monitoring post injection, are they monitoring seismicity? How are they doing that? So, there’s a lot of direct links between my PhD and my job, but then also transferable skills from PhD. So, I do a lot of source management, data analysis, lots of synthesis with ideas and writing, and also presentation skills are a massive part of my day-to-day work.

[03:24] Marissa Lo: What’s a typical day for you at the moment?

[03:25] Louisa Brotherson: My day involves reading lots of academic papers and project documents and pulling out the, kind of, relevant information, analysing data, making graphs as well, and then pulling all this together and writing reports. But then also, aside from project work, a lot of my work is collaborative. For example, all our processes are peer reviewed, so similar to the publication kind of peer review process in academia.

[03:54] Marissa Lo: What’s your favourite thing about your job?

[03:56] Louisa Brotherson: I guess my favourite thing is that I get to work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met and from such a wide range of backgrounds. We have climate scientists, there’s people with biology backgrounds, engineer backgrounds, and there’s also someone who worked at NASA at some point, which is just amazing that you have this on your team. I really love the fact that we’ve all come together with our diverse backgrounds to try and solve, in my opinion anyway, the greatest problem of our age, essentially. Also, the fact that lots of people in the business, I think about a sixth, have PhDs. So, they also really understand the sort of merits that PhD researchers bring to a role. And I think that helped me in my beginnings and made me feel like my opinion was respected and heard, essentially.

[04:41] Marissa Lo: What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into research or into something related to carbon?

[04:48] Louisa Brotherson: I would say to any geoscientists out there who are thinking about making the transition into the climate industry, it’s super exciting and basically, don’t be afraid to work for young companies and startups. So BeZero is known as a pandemic baby, essentially and what’s really exciting is that they’ve created really new green jobs that genuinely didn’t exist, like, years ago. And also, I decided that I wanted to make an impact and work in climate. So, I mean, there’s so many ways that you can do that, but I decided to act with my feet, essentially. Us as geoscientists as well, we have so many skills that are really viable in this sector, particularly in engineered carbon removals. If they’re injecting carbon in rocks, you know you need geoscientists, and we definitely need more! So, reach out to anyone who’s in the field, you can reach out to me. We very much need geoscientists.

[05:39] Marissa Lo: Amazing. Thank you so much, Louisa. I’m glad you’re enjoying your new job, and all the best with it.

[05:44] Louisa Brotherson: Thank you.

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