Clean Air for 1.3 Billion New Faces

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  

This blog is by Guthrie Gintzler, SEAS ’16

I set out looking for an internship for the 2014 summer in pursuit of something close to my home in Pittsburgh. When I received the offer to be an engineering intern at LP Amina in Beijing helping to reduce pollution, I knew I had to leave home behind; the opportunity was too tantalizing to pass by. Having never left the United States before, spending ten weeks working in Beijing seemed daunting at first. For one thing, I didn’t know a single word of Mandarin; I learned “nihao,” hello, on the plane ride to Beijing. I was thrilled to have the chance to gain experience in the energy industry on a global scale all while learning a new language through the free Mandarin lessons my company offered.

LP Amina is a multinational environmental engineering firm that researches NOx reduction solutions and retrofits Chinese coal-fired power plants with these solutions. For those not familiar, NOx, the general term for various nitric oxides, is one of the main chemical compounds that contributes to smog. Beijing has such bad smog that the PM 2.5 index used to measure air quality had to be extended from 500 to 800. The smog has been traced to increased lung cancer rates. LP Amina is a small 100 person company with a culture that shouts change and innovation. This made for a perfect environment to learn about clean and sustainable energy while making meaningful contributions in the pollution reduction efforts in my position as an engineering intern.

Although I am a mechanical engineering major at Penn, LP Amina placed me as a structural engineering intern. This proved to be a challenging position for me as there are a surprising number of differences between the two disciplines. Instead of designing the mechanics behind nozzles and burners, my job was to design the structure to support the ducts drafted by the mechanical engineers. My main project at LP Amina was designing a Secondary Overfire Air (SOFA) duct for the Linyi power plant in the Shandong District. My company flew me out to visit the site. There I received a full technical tour of the power plant, collected old blueprints, and climbed two of the boilers to take measurements and determine the best location for the SOFA ducts. While a power plant retrofit project in the US traditionally takes two years, a similar project in fast-paced China only takes two months. This enabled me to play an active role on all structural engineering aspects of the project, from creating an AutoCAD version of the old blueprints to checking the structural integrity of my design to support the SOFA ducts and creating material lists. I learned a few CAD software programs including Staad.Pro, which was all in Chinese, that I used to verify the structural integrity of my and other engineers’ designs.

What I least expected to encounter at a US-based company was the language barrier at work; I was the only native English speaker in the entire engineering department. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand my assignments at times. As I learned more Chinese, communication became easier and I began to have a jovial relationship with my coworkers. I attended a company-wide vacation to Inner Mongolia where I bonded with my peers over Chinese drinking games and horseback riding. By the end of the summer, I felt like my colleagues were family.

I wish to thank Career Services for providing the funding that enabled me to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Not only did I hone industry-relevant engineering skills and learn a great deal about the global energy economy, but the experience broadened my outlook on career and business opportunities worldwide.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.