His Nepalese name suggests he should be an artist, but Sailesh Chitrakar’s Skandinavian education has instead set him up for a double doctorate in hydropower engineering.
The «joint degree» is a relatively new topic at NTNU and this will be the very first one at Kathmandu University.
— The major challenge is that I have to fulfil the criteria of both the Universities to get the degree. Both the Universities have their own thesis guidelines and both he Universities require a final defence at their place, says Chitrakar.
A family of artists
Chitrakar was born in Nepal, in a family surrounded by painters.
— In our language, Chitrakar means a painting artist and we have been painting for hundreds of years.
In Kathmandu, the surname of the people was mostly given based on their occupation. People who are good at making sculptures, people who make sweets, people who are into medicines or people who are good at conducting rituals, everyone was given their own particular surnames.
— Painting is in my blood and I do love to paint sometimes. If I had not ended up studying engineering, I would probably be exhibiting my paintings right now, he says.
But instead of painting the mountains of Nepal, Chitrakar looks at the mountains and sees the potential of hydropower.
An entrepreneur in his home country
Nepal is a very unique country in many sense. To foreigners, Nepal is mostly known for its high mountains with geographical, as well as, cultural diversity.
— In the future, I am also interested in being an entrepreneur for providing various services related to hydropower plants, including the design and development of the turbines.
Where Norway has almost harnessed all the water power from its country and 99% of the total power consumed in the country is achieved from hydropower, Nepal has only harnessed about 2% of its feasible water power.
— Although many people call it a setback, I would like to see this as an opportunity for us to implement our knowledge in this sector, says Chitrakar.
Powerful mountains, but weak rock
Although the mountains of Nepal are mostly famous for being both majestic and perilous, weak rock topology cause the rivers in Nepal carry a lot of sand. This causes problems in hydropower plants, especially in wet seasons (July-September).
Even after a number of screening processes, very fine sand particles pass inside the turbine, causing erosion of different components.
Erosion decreases the age of turbines. For example, if a turbine is supposed to last for 20 years, wear ceases the life span enforcing the developers to do repair every year. The repaired turbines will also not produce the same power due to decrease in the efficiency of the turbine.
Developers have to bear loss due to decreased output power, repair and maintenance of the turbine, as well as cost of the new turbine components after few years, when the repair is no more possible.
Will find how erosion influences flow in turbines
A number of research activities have been carried out between NTNU and KU in the past, regarding the problems and possible solutions of the erosion problems.
— However, the more research we do, the more questions arise, and it becomes more important to know the physics behind the problem.
— It is exciting to see how a small gap of around 1 mm between the moving and the stationary part in a small region of the turbine can bring a huge change in the efficiency.
This is because the flow inside a turbine has a very high velocity, which makes it highly unstable and even a small change in the dimensions of the turbine increases the instability. Once the turbine is eroded, the surface of the turbine will not have the same morphology, compared to the new one.
— This causes flow to behave abnormally, causing more erosion, and more losses. In one sentence, my PhD is focused on investigating the physics of the flow once the turbine is eroded, how it adds to more problems and what is the solution for this problem.
Several projects in HydroCen will likely benefit from Chitrakar’s research. Both the design of a variable speed turbine, SediPas and several projects on sediment issues will learn from Chritrakars model.
Found Kathmandu University in Scandinavia
Due to the provision of ‘Cotutelle agreement’ (Co-tutoring) in NTNU, the double degree was made possible because of the long-term relation between these two Universities.
— I did my masters from Erasmus Mundus with KTH, Sweden as the host country.
It was here Chitrakar became aware of the possibilities at Kathmandu University (KU) in this home country.
Since I did my Masters in Turbomachinery, it was easier for me to approach Turbine Testing Lab (TTL), which is under KU. I was quickly hired as a Research Fellow in the lab after completing my thesis. Here he met professor Ole Gunnar Dahlhaug from NTNU, and his journey toward the PhD began.
Will take a 100 years of experience back to Kathmandu
Although both the Universities have a similar turbine testing lab, the lab at NTNU is more than 100 years old and the one at KU is only 7 years old.
— The idea was to learn as much as possible while staying at NTNU and implement the knowledge back in Nepal, says Chitrakar.
This year (2018) in August, he is planning to give his final defence at NTNU. Before that, he must defend his thesis at KU both internally (at the department) and externally (public).
— I believe that my work has produced some interesting and applicable results.
Regarding the future, he says, he would like to work closely with these two universities, for the next years. He is keen to see the lab at Kathmandu University do international standard testing and getting income from national and international clients.
— As I am doing my PhD from NTNU, I can say that I have spent a part of my life in Scandinavia, and I feel really proud to share it.
Ironically, his Scandinavian education has also brought him closer to home.
— I will most probably be and get settled in Nepal, because this where I am needed, and this is where my dreams are.