SFU celebrates its first graduand from the School of Sustainable Energy Engineering

June 23, 2021

By Cindy Li

When SFU’s School of Sustainable Energy Engineering (SEE) welcomed its inaugural cohort in September of 2019, Daina Baker was among the first to be known proudly as a SEE student. This spring, he marks the milestone of becoming the first to graduate from the school with a Master of Applied Science degree.

As a graduate student, Baker conducted research on 3D printing technology under the supervision of mechatronics professor Woo Soo Kim.

Baker’s research focused on conductive 3D printing and reducing the amount of silver required to print electronics. Silver is highly conductive and resistant to corrosion, making it the preferred material to create electrical wires; however, it is expensive. A hollow silver wire would reduce the amount of material required, but would be difficult to print without jeopardizing the wire’s structural integrity. To address this issue, Baker developed a 3D-printing nozzle that takes two inputs—silver paste and plastic—to print plastic surrounded by silver. The resulting 3D-printed wire is fully functional, mimics a hollow silver wire, has good structural support, and contains one-third less silver than standard electrical wires.  

Baker highlights that traditional manufacturing processes can be wasteful as it can require large amounts of raw material and energy to make a final product with much leftover scrap waste. 3D-printing technology allows for more sustainable manufacturing processes because it can precisely construct an item layer by layer, minimizing scrap waste. He adds that in the future, localized 3D-printing factories will be able to address local needs while reducing emissions associated with the mass transport of parts and products between countries.

“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw how individuals with 3D-printing technology addressed local needs for medical equipment by producing ear savers and parts for ventilators,” says Baker. “This is an example of how the technology can be used in sustainable manufacturing and meeting local demands.”

Since Baker spent most of his time conducting research off campus, he initially did not have many opportunities to regularly connect with his fellow SEE graduate students. It wasn’t until he joined his first SEE seminar course—mandatory for all SEE graduate students—that he started getting a deeper understanding of sustainable energy engineering and learning what his colleagues were working on.

“These connections made me realized that I am part of this larger community who wants the world to develop in a certain way, specifically to practice sustainability and using engineering technology to build a better future,” says Baker.

“The discussion in this course reminded me of how important it is to have this program so that like-minded individuals can come together to collaborate, foster ideas and share knowledge, especially if we want to take steps and actions to lessen the impacts of climate change.”

The SEE program broadened his perspective in that there are many areas that can be advanced to move sustainable technology forward.

“At first, I thought sustainability is about electrifying everything, but it’s not” says Baker. “SEE really opened my eyes that a single approach, such as electrification, is not the solution but rather, a multilayered approach is required to create a sustainable society.”

He got exposure to other research in this field including how the transfer of waste heat can be used to heat homes, how the surface chemistry of a product can make or break a system in agricultural use, and how breakthroughs in capturing carbon dioxide can curb greenhouse gas emissions.

As Baker is the first to graduate from SEE, he reminisces on his decision to why he chose SEE.

“What drew me to SFU was the university’s ongoing commitment toward greater sustainability,” says Baker. “I was already motivated toward pursuing research in applied systems to improve the long-term environmental footprint of Canada and found myself particularly interested in the new SEE graduate program.”

SEE’s inaugural school director, professor Kevin Oldknow, had the opportunity to reflect on the milestone, and Daina’s time in the program.

“Daina has been a positive and enthusiastic presence in SEE from the first day that he joined us," says Oldknow. "As one of our very first graduate students, he has played an active role in shaping and building the culture in the school and its graduate student environment, and I am delighted to have seen his successes in completing his master’s program.”

Taking what he has learned about sustainability, Baker will be returning to the fundamental sciences in pursuing a PhD in Chemistry at UBC in September. His ultimate goal is to become a professor so he can continue to research and instill students with a strong foundation in science.