Top 50 award winner Marie Sebban-Lee reveals what drove her to become an environmental engineer

Despite being just 35, Marie has already made significant contribution to engineering and specifically the field of sustainability and low carbon energy solutions.

Her innovative work has won awards, shaped landmark projects around the globe and even informed government policy.

With her combination of passion, originality and skills, she has developed an array of innovative environmental solutions for major projects across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and has also worked on many high-profile UK infrastructure schemes such as Heathrow Terminal 2. And, despite long hours spent on delivering high-pressure projects, she still somehow finds time to mentor our graduates and young engineers, where she is an Associate.

Marie says it was her grandfather, an engineer and physics teacher, who sparked her interest in sustainability and engineering. She says she found the physics of Photovoltaics (PV), particularly the process of energy conversion from sunlight to electricity using semiconductors, ‘fascinating and magical’. Captivated by the possibilities of PV, she yearned to understand how it could be adapted and applied to grid and off-grid application.

Marie has obtained a Master’s degree in engineering (Meng) in Ecole Centrale de Nantes where she also carried out research (as part of her course) at the renowned Department of Earth & Environmental Engineering - D.E.E.E of Columbia University (New York, USA). She then completed the EUREC (European Renewable Energy Research Centre) Master of Science in renewable energy led by the prestigious Ecole des Mines de Paris. She was part of first classes of this new master programme and one of only three women on the course, where she thrived on the challenge of making her mark in a traditionally male-dominated discipline.

Early in her career, Marie made the decision to dedicate her work to PV because she was ‘passionate about finding lasting renewable energy solutions in a world where renewables were yet to be fully understood and accepted’.

As part of her course, she secured a placement at a PV manufacturer in Spain where she was part of the design team specialising in software development of PV system sizing. That work led to the development of a sizing system for off-grid PV water pump used for rural areas in Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal. It was this project that would be the spring-board for her career.

Over the next decade she developed and honed an expertise in providing fully integrated environmental solutions.

Now, after working more than 10 years in the sustainability and renewable energy sector, her work has gone on to be trusted and developed by the industry and Government. Some of Marie’s career highlights so far include being:

  • BREEAM consultant at Terminal 2 for BAA, where she helped develop a BREEAM assessment specific to airport terminals which is now used as a model for informing the environmental design of BAA airport terminals worldwide.
  • Consultant for the new Hili Archaeological Park in Al Ain (UAE) where she developed a strategy which holistically incorporated sustainable principles into the full range of environmental aspects covered by the Estidama Pearl Building Rating System (3 Pearl).
  • Lead energy consultant on the 12,000 homes ‘East of Swindon masterplan’, where she assisted the council in achieving its target of 20 per cent energy savings by creating a bespoke tool to optimise low and zero carbon energy solutions for different phasing scenarios.
  • Sustainability consultant for the design of new custody centres for the Metropolitan Police, where she devised a sustainability checklist specific to custody centres, which has since been adopted as a key design and planning tool for The Met.
  • Sustainability consultant on the redevelopment of the Aberystwyth University campus, which achieved the first ‘Excellent’ rating under the BREEAM ‘Higher Education’ scheme in Wales and even won an award after being recognised as the highest scoring BREEAM in the education sector.

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