Pilanda Watkins-Curry joins Breakthrough Energy’s Innovator Fellows program from Olokun Minerals in Chesterfield, Virginia. She is a chemist with more than seven years of experience developing and managing products and technologies for research organizations in the public and private sectors. Pilanda leads the research, development, and technological advancement of Olokun’s wastewater treatment and mineral recovery process.
Olokun Minerals is commercializing a novel way to extract critical minerals, to create products that can be used in concrete, fertilizers, and batteries, from brines without using harsh chemicals or strong acids, which aids in transitioning to renewable and clean energy. The core of its mineral recovery process involves an innovative separation step that can recover minerals with a reduced chemical footprint, lower water usage, and improve energy consumption. Through the Fellows program, Olokun Minerals will continue to develop and advance its mineral recovery process and implement an intellectual property strategy to scale the solution for pilot and commercial operations. Their aim is to produce mineral salts with reduced operating expenses and enhanced product differentiation compared to hydrometallurgy and Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) methods. This approach allows for multiple minerals to be recovered simultaneously, providing a more efficient and cost-effective way to source the metals needed for renewable energy technologies with a smaller environmental footprint.
Pilanda enjoys leisure reading, traveling, cooking, and watching recreational sports like basketball and tennis. She holds a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Spelman College, and a Doctor of Philosophy in chemistry from Louisiana State University. Pilanda is also pursuing a master’s in law from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law with a focus on intellectual property.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Life is a marathon, and not a race.” This piece of wisdom has been my guiding light during adversity. I have learned that when obstacles come, it is important to take breaks and recharge.
What is your favorite word and why?
Resilience – This word serves as a constant reminder that obstacles are inevitable, and what truly matters is how swiftly we respond to challenges and adapt.
What is the most impactful book that you have read?
The most impactful book that I have read was “The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream” by Paulo Coelho. At its core, the book emphasizes the powerful them that “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Reading this reaffirmed my belief in the ability to manifest my own reality and chase my dreams with unwavering determination.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was growing up, my aspirations were rooted in a deep desire to make a positive impact on the world by helping people and solving problems. My passion for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) blossomed early on, and I have consistently sought ways to bridge what I do or what I am studying with its broader impact on others. This has led me to ask myself three fundamental questions through my research experiences: “What do I do? Why do I do it? And who am I doing it for?” These questions are guiding principles that help me align my career path to the broader community.
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