An engineer's nomadic path

Saka's seeking clean energy for Mongolia

© Patrcik Schneider via Pexels.

© Patrcik Schneider via Pexels.

Saka as a child with his grandmother and an elk (blackwhite photo). Image Saka Bayarsaikhan

Saka as a child with his grandmother, Khuvtsagaan Yadamsuren, and an elk. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka as a child with his grandmother, Khuvtsagaan Yadamsuren, and an elk. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

“Fix yourself, fix your home, then fix your nation” – this Mongolian proverb underpins the reasons my wife, children and I came to Australia.

I am studying for a Master’s of Sustainable Energy at The University of Queensland in my quest to help Mongolia transition to a sustainable and healthy energy future.

My earliest memories are of growing up with my grandparents in the beautiful countryside of Mongolia’s Terelj region, north-east of the capital, Ulaanbaatar.

Saka as a child with his grandmother, Khuvtsagaan Yadamsuren, and an elk. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

I loved horse-riding and spending time in the wild. Even as a young child, I was always keen to explore new things such as philosophy and science. 

When it was time to start school, I had to go to Ulaanbaatar to get a good education. Eventually, I gained a Bachelor’s degree in oil and gas engineering and became an engineer like my mother.

Mongolia’s population is just over three million, and you may know my country for its large plains and nomad lifestyle. But most people – about 1.5 million – actually live in the capital.

Winter average air pollution in Ulaanbaatar is 25 times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended concentration on some days, according to UNICEF Mongolia data in 2018.

In fact, air pollution – and lack of access to clean energy – are the main problems of Ulaanbaatar, which on average is the world’s coldest capital city, with a minus 24.5°C January average.

Most people in Mongolia heat their houses and cook with raw coal, and I have seen many children affected by lung-damaging air pollution that can even cause premature death.

On most days, the capital is engulfed in smog from these domestic fires, which mixes in the air with emissions from coal-fired power plants and motor vehicle exhaust. 

Smog over Ulaanbaatar in 2018, contrasting with the pristine snow and blue sky when the camera pans in the opposite direction.

Before coming to Australia to study at UQ, I worked in the Mongolian Energy Economics Institute under the Ministry of Energy for six years.

My job was part of a think tank that provides energy-related studies, research projects and policy recommendations to support the Ministries and Government.

I was hungry for more knowledge and some international experience, and my employer encouraged me to apply for an Australia Awards scholarship. It was a great honour when I was selected to study sustainable energy here at UQ.

Image: Veeterzy via Unsplash.

Red and white factory pole smoking. Image: Veeterzy via Unsplash.
Saka with his wife and daughter in traditional dress at their wedding.

Saka with his wife, Agiimaa Bold, and son, Denzentseren Saruultur, in traditional dress at their wedding. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka with his wife, Agiimaa Bold, and son, Denzentseren Saruultur, in traditional dress at their wedding. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka presents during a lecture. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan

Saka presents during a lecture. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka presents during a lecture. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan

Saka on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka with his wife, Agiimaa Bold, and son, Denzentseren Saruultur, in traditional dress at their wedding. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

My family and I arrived in Australia in June 2019. We saw beautiful surroundings, a clean blue sky and green trees everywhere, and people were friendly and always smiling at us!

I was also impressed that the professors, lecturers and scholars at UQ were all highly intelligent and friendly. Initially we felt some cultural differences, but we are getting used to living here now.

Queensland and Brisbane have a warm feeling to me, because some features of life here are quite similar to Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia. These include the big open land, abundant resources and mining-based developments.

Saka presents during a lecture. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

My study program is based on week-long intensive courses. At first, I found it quite difficult to keep up, partly because of the language, but after a while I got used to it.

We take tests and oral exams, write reflections, critical individual papers and group case studies, and it is full on!

It has been a great experience to learn the material and improve my understanding of the world.

Our lecturers and professor took our class on a really enjoyable, two-day Queensland energy field trip at the start of last semester.

Saka on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

We visited the beautiful Heron Island where UQ’s research station has an independent solar powered system, as well as Gladstone power station, the Australia Pacific Liquified Natural Gas field, and Rio Tinto’s Yarwun Alumina Refinery – one of Australia’s largest.

Learning alongside a diversified cohort from all over the world definitely has been an added bonus for me.

My classmates from different backgrounds and countries all willingly share their specialist knowledge and experience.

The Master's students visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhane: Saka Bayarsaikhan

The Master's students visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

The Master's students visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Still, we all find the most important thing is that we classmates support each other, when working in teams and during any difficult times.

As I approach the end of my Master’s studies, I have been thinking about what has been so valuable to me in this program.

I really appreciated learning about energy security, energy strategy, clean cooking and heating, natural gas and renewable energy technologies, along with energy law and policy. I think I can say I “found myself” and my passion – and I have learned to think of the big picture.

This degree has provided me with technical skills to work on the global stage, and has helped me improve my leadership and team working skills. 

I have always wanted to change my country to a better place. I will return to my job, ready to use my new expertise in the Mongolian energy sector.

With my colleagues, I want to focus on building a reliable, secure energy system with clean cooking and heating, and green technologies for all in Mongolia. These challenges are rather urgent!

My family’s nomadic path from Mongolia that connected us to Australia has been an unimaginable and exciting trip so far.

Australia has changed my life and my family. We have travelled around the continent and experienced wonderful cities and places. And we have been living in the midst of diversified cultures and people, learning new things that open our eyes to thinking differently, more positively and broadly.

Mongolia yurt in green field. Image: Vince Gx via Unsplash.

Mongolia yurt in green field. Image: Vince Gx via Unsplash.

Mongolia yurt in green field. Image: Vince Gx via Unsplash.

Author Saruultur "Saka"Bayarsaikhan outside UQ's Advanced Engineering Building. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Author Saruultur "Saka"Bayarsaikhan outside UQ's Advanced Engineering Building. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Author Saruultur "Saka"Bayarsaikhan outside UQ's Advanced Engineering Building. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Solar panel in front of Mongolian yurt. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Solar panel in front of Mongolian yurt. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Solar panel in front of Mongolian yurt. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka's family sitting on a horse-drawn cart.

Saka's family sitting on a horse-drawn cart with grandfather, Dambadarjaa Tuvden.

Saka's family sitting on a horse-drawn cart with grandfather, Dambadarjaa Tuvden.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Author Saruultur "Saka"Bayarsaikhan outside UQ's Advanced Engineering Building. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Author Saruultur "Saka"Bayarsaikhan outside UQ's Advanced Engineering Building. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Author Saruultur "Saka"Bayarsaikhan outside UQ's Advanced Engineering Building. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Solar panel in front of Mongolian yurt. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Solar panel in front of Mongolian yurt. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Solar panel in front of Mongolian yurt. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Saka's family sitting on a horse-drawn cart.

Saka's family sitting on a horse-drawn cart with grandfather, Dambadarjaa Tuvden.

Saka's family sitting on a horse-drawn cart with grandfather, Dambadarjaa Tuvden.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar. Image: Saka Bayarsaikhan.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Air pollution of Ulaanbaatar.

Contact: Marian Lunah Sommer, m.sommer@uq.edu.au, ph +61  7 3346 3464; Saruultur (Saka) Bayarsakhan, saka_saruultor@yahoo.com

Learn more about UQ's Master of Sustainable Energy program here.