Taiwan intern turns his hand
to green energy solutions

Jacob Ward describes the fascinating work he undertook at ITRI's Green Energy Laboratories in Taiwan on an Asia New Zealand Foundation internship.

Jacob Ward spent most of his time working in a team synthesising monomers and polymers that are bio-compatible and can conduct electricity

The work of an intern

My time at ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute) was spent at the main campus in Hsinchu, Taiwan. There I was placed with the biofuel department in the company's Green Energy Laboratories.

I had two major projects I assisted with in my time here – microalgae as a io-oil source and polymers to improve microbial fuel cells (MFCs). The work was satisfying, with many problems arriving that required solving or avoiding.

As my main area of education is Chemistry, I spent most of my time working with the MFC team synthesising monomers and polymers that are biocompatible and can conduct electricity.

In the team, only one chemist didn’t speak much English, but over time we both got very good at working together and communicating most of our ideas without a translator, and thus produced some very promising results!

I have learnt several lab techniques that are both fundamental to all chemistry, and techniques more specific to that of the project. The microalgae project has also given me an understanding of several advanced biotechnological processes that we utilised, with my colleagues allowing me to run many of them with their guidance.

Being mentored

ITRI is a wonderful place to build a foundation of lab skills and confidence in research.

My mentor and my supervisor encouraged me to not only to express my ideas, but discuss them and often pursue them to see if they offer any merit, which most definitely allowed me to think more holistically about my experiments in the lab setting. It also ensured that I not only understood what I was doing but what the results meant and how they can be improved or utilised for industrial application.

Many of the projects here are state of the art and the people researching them are world leaders in their fields.

My mentors spoke fluent English, which was incredibly helpful for me, but many staff did not speak any or very little English. This meant it was steep learning curve to figure out how to communicate using a combination of miming, drawing and Google Translate. Everyone was very welcoming and keen to share their knowledge about their project or about Taiwan.

Life outside of work

Many of my colleagues were very interested in my traveling around Taiwan, suggesting food or destinations. Furthermore, many were curious about New Zealand and several discussions comparing the countries ensued. Taiwan is a very safe country, and walking around late at night in the back streets I felt completely safe.

Jacob out and about in Taipei with fellow ITRI intern Falina Tsai

Weekends and the public holidays that were interspersed throughout my time at ITRI allowed me to travel with other Asia New Zealand Foundation interns in Taiwan. The transport system in Taiwan is outstanding, and the size of the island means you can travel from the top to the bottom on the high-speed rail in 2.5 hours.

On some weekends we travelled further afield to places such as Alishan Mountain or Taichung, others were spent in Taipei, going to markets and experience local cultures.

Taiwan is full of culture, and I have seen several museums that display the rich history of Taiwan, as well as some amazing works of art! Going hiking has also been a favourite activity of mine, with some breath-taking views as well as some marvellously constructed tracks made entirely of logs. It has certainly allowed me to appreciate anthropology far more!