Driving Sustainability Research Forward

Larissa Affolabi came to Illinois Institute of Technology as a master’s degree student in search of a top-tier graduate program in engineering for energy systems. 

“In terms of power system courses and education in the United States, Illinois Tech offers the most innovative, interesting, and high-quality courses,” says Larissa. “Illinois Tech has one of the first campus microgrids, which adds that new innovative aspect to the courses. They tackle new problems that the power systems are facing and also talk about which solutions are being worked on in the research and industry communities.”

After graduating in 2019, she was interning with ComEd when she received an offer from one of her Illinois Tech professors, Distinguished Bodine Chair Professor Mohammad Shahidehpour, to return to the university for a Ph.D. program. “I liked the kind of projects he’s worked on in the past, and he's a really well-known and respected professor in our domain, so it was an honor for me to get an invitation to work with him,” says Larissa.

Now as a Ph.D. student, Larissa has received the 2021 Starr/Fieldhouse Research Fellowship and the 2021 Dr. Bhakta B. & Sushama Rath Endowed Research Award for her work on electric vehicles and grid sustainability. She works on market-based models for the development of sustainable infrastructure, particularly related to electric vehicles. 

“My personal point of view is that if we really want to increase the deployment and implementation of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, it has to be made into a business. To attract more investment into public charging stations, it needs to be a profitable activity,” she says. “The research we’re working on is one of the few that considers charging stations as a profit-driven entity.”

Her recent award and fellowship were both based on the model she is working on for peer-to-peer energy trading between electric vehicles, an innovative approach since most existing research focuses on trading between vehicles and the power grid. Larissa says her approach is also beneficial for long-term energy sustainability, promoting the use of renewable energy sources at charging stations. 

Larissa says her long-term goal is to return to her home continent as an engineer. “I’m well aware of the problems that we have in Africa, and I would like to participate in making things better. So many things depend on having good, affordable, and reliable access to electricity,” she says.

Related Stories