Meet Patrick Sullivan
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Graduation Year: 2024
“I not only grew in my knowledge of sustainable energy systems but also grew as a person in my passion for the fight against climate change.”
I am a chemistry PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I design and characterize new materials for renewable energy technologies, such as energy storage, carbon capture and utilization, water desalination, electrosynthesis, and thermal heat harvesting. I’ve always been a chemistry nerd, but have also grown really passionate about making a true impact towards improving environmental health and energy equity. My research team and I actually founded our own Wisconsin-based startup company in 2021, Flux XII LLC, for our safe, sustainable, and affordable flow battery technology so that we can get out of the lab and directly make an impact on these important issues.
I was interested in TGP personally as I haven’t traveled much out of the country or by myself. Iceland in particular was super interesting to me because I knew that they are a leader in renewable energy, so I wanted to see how countries/communities can work together to make creative sustainability solutions. I am also always excited to meet other young professionals passionate about addressing climate change! I had been eyeing the Iceland TGP program since 2019 when I began graduate school, but it got thrown to the back-burner with COVID. When Fall 2021 rolled around and I saw the TGP scholarship opportunity, I thought I’d apply not expecting much. When I found out that I actually got it, I was like “I guess I’m actually doing this!” I was a little nervous and anxious, but also so excited for the opportunity! I was also grateful that the enrollment process was very smooth for me with no significant challenges along the way.
“The most memorable experiences come from being outside of your comfort zone.”
I was nervous to travel to another country by myself and to hang out in a new country with strangers I had never met, but some of the most memorable experiences come from being outside of your comfort zone. I couldn’t have had a better time in Iceland with TGP, meeting so many wonderful people and doing so many cool things in the sustainable energy world, or even just exploring such a beautiful country with them. I feel like I not only grew in my knowledge of sustainable energy systems but also grew as a person in my passion for the fight against climate change. Having grown up in and never really traveled out of the Midwest, it was such a thought-provoking journey to experience such a culturally rich and unique country like Iceland. I think TGP is a great experience for students to give them the opportunity to pop their bubble and see the world from another perspective. It is also important for underrepresented students to have these experiences because it will require all communities to come together to fully solve climate change!
My favorite educational moment was probably seeing the largest (and only?) direct air CO2 capture plant in the world, and how Iceland was able to sustainably operate it due to their water and geothermal resources. Most areas cannot mimic this exact model, but it was a great example of how you can use the resources around you in a sustainable manner to solve these huge environmental and energy issues. My biggest takeaway here was that climate change is running rampant (the effects were evident with the crazy weather, melting glaciers, and increased volcanic activity in Iceland) but that the change our generation chooses to make together can be even more impactful. We just have to work as a team to come up with creative solutions that are beneficial for all stakeholders involved. We even got the chance to ultimately do this with the Capstone Project, where my team eventually came up with a business model to turn agricultural food waste into biofuel energy in developing countries, with Mexico City as our specific case study.
Having been working on developing my own grid energy storage business, I took somewhat of a backseat in the initial idea planning with my group because I wanted to branch out of my expertise and everyone had so many interesting and creative ideas! This project was so cool to work on as we had such a passionate and diverse team: one person who was passionate and knows a lot about environmental sustainability, another person who works with recycling programs in California, one had a such a depth of knowledge of sustainability policies, and we even had a student in our group from Mexico who provided that unique perspective and details about their environmental sustainability ecosystem. I helped with the technology and business model planning side and ultimately, we found such a business model would be extremely challenging as it would involve partnership with many different stakeholders – cities, farmers, technology, investors, etc. – but that if these stakeholders creatively came together, there would be benefits for everyone in such a business model. Overall, it was super impressive what our passionate team was able to come up with to such a challenging issue in less than a week!
“TGP is a great experience for students to give them the opportunity to pop their bubble and see the world from another perspective.”
Patrick’s advice for new GREENies:
If you are at a university, be sure to reach out to see if you can get travel funding assistance as many schools have funds saved up for study abroad from COVID. If you aren’t sure about the program or the location, reach out to anyone in the TGP Alumni Network and we’d be more than happy to tell you about our experience!