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The United Nations 9th International Day for Women and Girls in Science Assembly took place on 8-9 February, 2024 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The day is celebrated on 11 February. 

The Assembly examined topics around gender equality across the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). More female talent needs to be harnessed globally to achieve the goals of sustainable development. The United Nations reports that, so far, we “have not achieved gender equality in STEM”.

SUSHEAT interviewed EU Climate Ambassador, Professor Luisa F. Cabeza, from the GREiA Research Group and the Department of Industrial Engineering and Buildings at the University of Lleida (UdL), which is situated in Lleida, Catalonia, close to Barcelona.

Luisa F. Cabeza is a highly cited researcher. Google her and you will see that she has won many awards and has received an unusually high number of citations for her work, with much of it in the fields of energy and energy storage. 

The feature and profile, below, documents her journey into engineering; her impressive academic history; her participation in international energy bodies; and her work as an EU Climate Ambassador. On SUSHEAT, GREiA Research Group from the UdL will collaborate with partners from i-TES to design a new thermal energy storage tank, using an approach never attempted before.

But, if you asked fifteen-year-old Luisa what she wanted to study after school, she would have told you: “Anything but engineering. Because I never liked physics. Although now, it’s what I do all the time”.

 “I always wanted to do medicine. My Dad was a medical doctor and I found that was very exciting. But as time went by in school, I got closer to chemistry.” 

Prior to enrolling in engineering there were a lot of comments from both her grandmothers. “One of my grandmothers was super happy and was encouraging me, and told me ‘Yes, do it’. So, when Luisa went with her Mum to enrol in university, she decided to do engineering. 

“After starting the engineering course, I knew I had made the right choice. I ended up doing chemical and mechanical engineering. You see, my grandfather was an engineer. I always liked having conversations with him, and I think that’s also what made me interested in the subject.”

“Also, my favourite subject at school was mathematics. Now I understand that it’s maths that leads you to engineering, so it’s logical. At that time, I didn’t really see the link”.


An engineer – that is a male subject!

As soon as she had enrolled in engineering her Mother received a call from her paternal Grandmother telling her: “You must stop this! If Luisa becomes an engineer, she will never get married! Engineering is a male subject!”.

Thankfully, she had the support of both her parents and continued with her studies. Plus, she had two brothers, and was constantly in male company with them and their friends, who became her friends. But how did she negotiate her way through a male-dominated environment in her professional life? It is well-known that engineering is a highly competitive, traditionally male domain. Did she feel alone?

“I felt alone at times. Yes. But I didn’t feel like I needed to have other women around me. I have already mentioned my brothers, and I was close in age to them, so I was used to being around boys.

But at the same time, I did feel that being one of few women in the engineering tutorials – that was a challenge. But this gave me more interior power, you know. To fight, to get things done.”

Are there now more female enrolments in engineering at University? “No, unfortunately not – it doesn’t look different. But we cannot force equality.”

“So, I tell young people, either girls or boys, that you must do what you love. If a man wants to be a nurse, be a nurse, and if a girl wants to be an engineer, be it.”


Fathers can be thebest role models for women

EU Climate Ambassador, Professor Luisa F. Cabeza, from the GREiA Research Group and the Department of Industrial Engineering and Buildings at the University of Lleida (UdL)

“I suppose it’s important to say, though, that my father was a super good role model for me. And when he decided to do his PhD in medicine, when I was in high school, I helped him. That was my first introduction to research, and I liked it very much.”

In fact, years later one of her proudest moments was when she completed her PhD in 1996 from the University Ramon Llull, Barcelona, Spain.  “That was really a landmark moment for me, like most people when they finish their PhD, it’s a big achievement. Also, my family felt proud of me, right. And I could feel that.” 

The completion of a PhD often is a major decision-making crossroad. Luisa first wanted to get a job in industry, but after she finished her post doc in the USA, she decided to stay in the world of academia.

Not long afterwards, she broke the glass ceiling when she was granted a full professorship at UdL. “I was very young when I was granted my professorship, 39 years old, and in engineering, being a woman, well, that was also an honour I guess.”


Women are given feeling that their words count for less

Did she have to prove herself more in a crowd of men? For example, publish more, work more, have more stage presence? Were there any sacrifices?

“Honestly, I did not have to work more, or publish more. I felt it more when I was in a meeting with, say, ten men. You sometimes felt that they didn’t let you talk. And when you talked, you were kind-of dismissed. It’s like they gave you the feeling that your words did not have the same power as theirs.”

(That was the late eighties, nineties? Things have changed – or have they?)
She laughs. “No, actually, because today my name is known, so it’s the opposite.” People listen to what Luisa F. Cabeza has to say. “But, generally, I am not so sure that we have achieved the change for women in professions and science that we would have hoped for”.

The GREiA Research Group, which, was founded by Cabeza, has impressive competences in thermal energy storage; building energy efficiency; energy use optimisation; artificial intelligence; and sustainable tannery processes, and is involved in many research collaborations and projects.


Decreasing CO2 emisionsis not as expensive as claimed

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Cabeza spends a lot of time away from home, at airports, travelling for many EU-funded projects and networking with other international universities and companies working in the energy industry.

It was because of her initiative to invite companies to UdL to participate in a workshop to showcase their sustainability targets, that the spotlight was placed on her. She caught the attention of the European Commission that grants the climate ambassadorial roles.

“The companies came to the EU-funded SWS-Heating workshop and they explained how they had reduced their CO2 emissions and what they had done in their production processes to reach that, and what it had cost them”.

“What we realised from this workshop is that the companies present agreed that decreasing CO2 emissions is possible, and it is not as expensive as it is sometimes claimed.”


Cabeza proud to beEU Climate Ambassador



“Well, to tell the truth, when I was named an EU Climate Ambassador for the first time, I was very proud. You always think that people who are acting as brand ambassadors of such things, in the name of the European Commission, that it should be someone with another profile to that of mine.”

Obviously, it is a recognition of the work she has achieved. The drive she has, her commitment and thirst for knowledge, her temerity in pushing for workable renewable energy solutions for society. For speaking up. For linking actors in emerging renewable energy sectors that are sometimes fragmented due differing policies within EU countries that affect funding, and the market penetration of renewables. As a result, in November 2023, she had her Climate Ambassadorial role renewed. Her work is not complete.

“The idea is that we do as much as we can to make society better. We need to also make policy makers understand the urgency of the climate change problem. As citizens we can decrease heating levels at home and work, use public transport, or even consider our emissions when we travel for leisure.”

Energy is a complex topic that requires massive levels of investment. Finding ways to deal with intermittent renewable energy supplies means that we must work hard to improve the storage solutions of renewable energy; target energy efficiency and improve supply so that it’s reliable. 

When she arrived at the SUSHEAT Consortium Meeting in Stavanger in November, 2023, she had flown-in directly from Antofagasta in Chile. Despite the jet lag, she was on her feet that evening, over the next days, working long hours, often late into the night. No doubt, she is a STEM bright light!

Elsevier journal gives a history of Professor Cabeza’s work

“Luisa F. Cabeza received her PhD in Industrial Engineering in 1996 from the University Ramon Llull, Barcelona, Spain. She also holds degrees in Chemical Engineering (1992) and in Industrial Engineering (1993), as well as an MBA (1995) from the same University.

Dr Cabeza joined UdL in 1999 where she created the research group GREiA and started her research on thermal energy storage (TES). Her interests include the different TES technologies (sensible, latent and thermochemical), applications (buildings, industry, refrigeration, CSP, etc.), and social aspects.

Dr Cabeza is very active in the storage implementing agreement (ECES IA) of the International Energy Agency and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She also acts as subject editor of the journals Renewable Energy, and Solar Energy and today is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Energy Storage.”

Separately, Dr Cabeza is the co-ordinator of the RedTES network. The Spain-based RedTES focuses on the collaboration between research groups and companies in the advancement of TES nationally and internationally. The collaboration is expanding very fast, where the number of industry involvement is growing. Spain is one of the leading countries, globally, in the field of TES which has been enabled by research, development and innovation collaborations.

On SUSHEAT, GREiA-UdL will explore a highly innovative approach for the design of the project’s (Make sure this is linked) Thermal Energy Storage (TES) tank, exploring the most suitable Phase Change Material. GREiA-Udl will work with the Italian start-up company from Torino, i-TES that specialises in innovative thermal storage solutions, particularly in PCMs. The SUSHEAT technologies will approach will attempt designing a very different thermal energy storage tank using artificial intelligence and 3-D printing which, if successful, will be a breakthrough. The commencement of this work will be showcased in the project over the next months.

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