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A switch from fossil fuel to renewables

 

Having worked in the energy sector focusing on fossil fuels, Cambridge Judge alumna, Belinda Knox (MBA 2006) had an epiphany moment that set her on the path to decarbonising her career.

A switch from fossil fuel to renewables.
Photo of Belinda Knox, Cambridge MBA alumna (MBA 2006).
Belinda Knox (MBA 2006)

Prior to the Cambridge MBA, Belinda Knox already had a highly successful career in the energy sector with a focus on fossil fuels, initially working for BHP Billiton in Australia and then transferring to Tokyo to market coal and iron ore to Japanese customers. She also spent several years at InterGen in Hong Kong working in project finance around coal supply for large-scale power projects and subsequently moved to the asset portfolio and investment management area.

Belinda’s internal focus shifted in 2005 with the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol. At this stage, renewables were not on her radar, but it was time to rethink her career and her geographic location – back to Australia or something different? The “something different” won and she arrived in Cambridge in 2006 to study for an MBA.

The watershed moment in Belinda’s career came during her time at Cambridge Judge when she attended a lecture by Al Gore about his book: An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. The lecture was sponsored by Terra Firma and Belinda came away absolutely transfixed and inspired to help the environment. She wrote to the CEO of Terra Firma asking for the opportunity to combine an internship with her global consulting project (GCP). Her wish was granted and her GCP at Terra Firma focused on recent UK M&A transactions in the renewable energy sector.

Attending the lecture gave Belinda not only a new focus but also a new job; after completing her MBA, she went to work for Terra Firma full-time. From there, she moved to Advanced Power and focused on gas-fired projects in Europe – a transition from fossil fuels to a cleaner fuel in gas. She subsequently changed roles to focus on renewables and decarbonisation. She is in no doubt that the MBA put her on that trajectory.

“Cambridge was a wonderful experience and I spent an empowering, stimulating year rethinking my career and making invaluable connections. If I had returned to Australia for an MBA I would certainly not have moved into renewables,” said Belinda.

Committing to a new pathway

Belinda is now totally committed to decarbonising her career. She is currently working for I-Environment Investments (a subsidiary of ITOCHU) in the role of Investment Director where she has been involved in large-scale waste-to-energy projects associated with landfill remediation and water desalination.

These projects contribute to the environment in several ways, as demonstrated by the Belgrade Energy from Waste and Landfill remediation project. It addresses one of the biggest environmental and social problems in Serbia; the Vinca dumpsite, a 40-hectare environmental catastrophe on the banks of the river Danube. The project will produce power from waste treatment and methane gas, eventually supplying the equivalent to the total power consumption for approximately 30,000 households.

Another environmental milestone in Belinda’s career is the recent closure of the largest energy-from-waste deal globally; the Dubai Waste-to-Energy project. Not only is it the largest energy-from-waste project in the world; but it is also the first of its kind globally to receive contributions from the Japanese credit agencies, JBIC and NEXI. The Dubai Waste-to-Energy project will have a net emission reduction of almost 65m tonnes of CO2 equivalent over its lifetime.

Working toward a zero emissions future

For Belinda, this project exemplifies the long-term view that renewable energy demands. “Renewable energy and other infrastructure investments are often many years in development before ground is even broken, so stay the course, even if it seems to be very distant in the future,” she said.

In addition to waste and water treatment, Belinda is now turning her attention to green hydrogen facilities, together with ammonia-fuelled ships, which can offer zero emissions in bunkering ships around the globe. In the coming years, she is hoping for the successful completion of a hydrogen-related project that will fully offset her previous career in carbon emissions.

Although concerned about the upheavals that recent events in Europe are creating in the energy markets, Belinda believes that the European and UK governments have already made significant pledges to achieve carbon emission reduction.

Belinda said, “a ‘half-full’ renewable energy investor will say that these geo-political challenges will only help to add to the resolve of Europe and the UK to continue on their decarbonisation mission.  This will, in turn, keep the lights on for renewable energy and other environmental projects”.

And her advice for those following in her footsteps?

“It is important to know what really drives you, so that career decisions can become easier to make”.