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Professor Haijiang Wang At Mechanical And Energy Engineering Department (MEE): Foster The Development Of China's Fuel Cell Technology Is My Purpose At SUSTech



Recently, the first list of Shenzhen "Peacock Team" in 2016 was published. The automobile fuel cell stack technology development group from SUSTech was selected as one of them. The leader of this group is professor Haijiang Wang from MEE department at SUSTech.
 
Professor Wang has once worked as the principal scientist of Canada National Research Council. After returning to China, he worked as the Chair Professor in MEE department at SUSTech. His research interests focus on electrochemical energy source and energy storage, including proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), metal-air battery, microbiological fuel cell, direct alcohol fuel cell, energy storage battery, hydrogen making of electrolysis, electrochemical hydrogen gas compression and high pressure hydrogen storage. Currently he is leading the team to work on the development of automobile fuel cell stack technology.
 
[China's fuel cell technology development demand is urgent]
 
Professor Wang introduced to the reporter that fuel cell stack technology would be the most critical technology in future automobile industry and its application potential is enormous. Professor Wang said, many people did not understand the meaning of developing fuel cells. However, it was easily comprehensible if compare with the internal combustion engines. In fact, fuel cells could be applied to anywhere internal combustion engines were applicable. Nevertheless, fuel cells had one advantage that was ineligible: the energy transfer of fuel cells was almost as three times efficient as that of internal combustion engines! Professor Wang indicated that every time the utilization of new energy type would drive a industrial revolution; the first industrial revolution was due to steam engine while the subsequent one was internal combustion engine. He predicted that the next revolution would be drove by fuel cell.
 
The fuel cell technology of Europe, North America, Japan and Korea was more advanced whereas China has fallen behind in this area. Based on this situation, professor Wang said that the most practical application of fuel cell in China was fuel cell automobiles. It had the advantage of zero emission as the electrical cars did and it overcame the weakness of short mileage. Professor Wang exemplified that an electrical car had to recharge after running about 100 kilometers and the recharging would consume a long time. However, a fuel cell car could run about 500 to 700 kilometers after filling up 5 kilogram of hydrogen in just 3 minutes. Professor Wang told the reporter that the problems of haze and pollution in cities were serious so the demand for fuel cell automobiles was huge. National policies also favored the development of zero emission cars. One of them was electrical cars while the other one was fuel cell cars. "Electrical cars have many problems, so the fact they are the transitional substitutes is the consensus among those international automobile companies. The final stage must be fuel cell cars." Professor Wang concluded, "This is the reason why we must develop fuel cell automobiles."
 
Professor Wang told the reporter that almost every big oversea company was developing fuel cell cars. Since fuel cell technology is more complicated than batteries, it was necessary to set up many hydrogen stations for refilling, which were similar to gas stations. For example, in the U.S., the area around Los Angeles and San Francisco had only 30 hydrogen stations thus there were only about 100 fuel cell cars nearby. He said, the situation in China and abroad were different: it was the technology that drove the market in abroad whereas technology was drove by market in China. The reason was because China has urgent demand in solving the pollution problem so that zero emission cars were not only demanded by the market but also favored by national policies. Professor Wang also said that it was less likely for the government abroad to purchase buses so the development of fuel cell automobiles would probably start at cars; in contrary, Chinese government was able to do that so the development of China's fuel cell automobiles may start at buses.
 
[Returning to China, met with SUSTech]
 
Professor Wang told us that one of the reasons why he chose to research in this area was his abundant research experience in electrochemistry: "Fuel cell is an electrochemical energy transfer device. Many electrochemistry researchers studied either battery or fuel cell." After coming from Utah State University to Canada, he entered Canada Natural Resource Department. Since the instructor of professor Wang was conducting research on fuel cell, he also started his work in this area. Professor Wang recalled that it was in 1997 and he has been studying fuel cell for almost 20 years. After that, he entered Canada National Research Council and continued his study in hydrogen fuel cell.
 
Professor Wang came to SUSTech in October, 2015. 20 years of development in fuel cell stack area made professor Wang believed that the technology was well developed and commercialization was necessary. Thus, he and professor Hui Li (Chair Professor at MEE department, SUSTech) returned to China and wished to foster the development of China's fuel cell technology and the commercialization of fuel cell in China. "That is why I came to SUSTech."
 
Professor Wang shared his interesting experience of returning to China with our reporter: "I have done plenty of work in Canada and always wish to come back and commercialize it. Then we thought if we would like to come back and work with high efficiency, the application of 'Recruitment Program of Global Experts' is essential for its great platform and resource." By then, professor Li applied for the recruitment program at SUSTech and professor Wang applied for Tsinghua's quota, and both application were approved. Therefore, professor Li came to SUSTech first. After that, professor Wang thought the process of commercialization may be boosted if they work together since they were virtually the same development team. Consequently, professor Wang chose to work at SUSTech rather than at Tsinghua.
 
Professor Wang honestly presented his great enthusiasm in fuel cell. He determined that fuel cell would have excellent development potential in China. Thus, he has been planning to return to China since last year. "Fuel cell will drive industrial revolution and create new economics, which is called hydrogen economics in the globe. It can be imagined that the employment opportunities will be increasing." Professor Wang had many wishes for this new industry: "I hope that younger generation can know about this industry and those who have passion in environment and new technology can join this profession."
 
[Prosperous research and experience sharing]
 
The research team of professor Wang consists of excellent talents. Currently, the team has 18 members with the majority of research assistants with master degrees. Other members are Ph.D. students and post-doctoral researchers. It is worth mentioning that most of professor Wang's technology development are completed in International Clean Technology Research Institute in Vancouver, Canada. Interestingly, several members in the current team are from the research team which professor Wang has worked in by then.
 
Meanwhile, professor Wang said, SUSTech has provided plenty of support to his team, such as space, equipment and human resource. The most prominent example is the laboratory located in N11 which occupies one and half storey and the gray cabin located outside is the newly established hydrogen depot. He told the reporter that his research team has started up a company with SUSTech and Hongkong Hybrid Kinetic Group and the company is at its early stage. The team has 18 members and they are working on product design and process design etc. The size of the team is expanding and the estimated number of people will reach 60 in 2017. After finishing the work at the first stage, they will look for financial investment in the market. Subsequently, the project will enter manufacture stage. When talking about the estimated time for the final product to come out, professor Wang told us with confidence: "The prototype will be functioning in the next fall. Manufacture may need another 2 or 3 years."
 
The working experience in Canada has professor Wang felt various differences between China and abroad. He said, two countries differed in not only culture but also the pace of working, where Chinese lifestyle was much more intense than that of abroad. Professor Wang said with honesty that intense pace was not as effective as imagined: "There are plenty of chores which are unavoidable and time consuming. Sometimes they will distract you from your research work. In abroad, my colleagues and I only need to focus on one thing when working. In fact, the time can be spent on research in China may not be as much as them."
 
As the Chair Professor at SUSTech, professor Wang was also responsible for teaching a course. He would begin his first lecture in this September. Professor Wang told us that if he taught two courses in a year, it would affect the progress of the research, thus he hoped for more time for his research work: "The development of fuel cell technology is rapid. If we do not go ahead of others, we will be surpassed. We wish for more time resource which can be provided by SUSTech."
 
As for the public's bias on researchers, professor Wang pointed out that not all researchers were as described by social media: "Such phenomena do exist. Funding is easily attainable, especially in the popular industry like hydrogen, thus some people may manipulate these opportunities to attract capital. For us, we would like to actually commercialize fuel cell so technology is the core. We must manufacture products. Otherwise, everything else is nonsense. Professor Hui Li and I came from Canada just for the purpose of commercializing fuel cell. We are already the high salary class in Canada and our life is enjoyable therefore we would not come back if not for this purpose."
 
When talking about the development period of one product, professor Wang said that one or two years would be a reasonable time to produce a product in general. If it lasted longer, there would be more problems: "For example, many venture capital will lose their interest on you if you have not made your product after three years." Meanwhile, professor Wang used his own research as an example to emphasize that short-time success did not represent the whole story: "From development to product making costs much longer than two years. It is due to the accumulation in abroad where most of the design work were done that we can produce our product in one or two years."
 
[Welcome students to enter my team]
 
For the students who intend to enter his team, professor Wang provided a brief introduction: "My team allows the joining of undergraduates and we are recruiting graduate students. But, our direction is distinct, which is fuel cell automobiles. Meanwhile, the other section is hydrogen energy, which is mainly about electrolysis of water. Fuel cell involves many aspects and the major difference of our group is interdisciplinary research. Since the technology involves mechanical manufacture, material, chemical engineering, fluid mechanics, electrochemistry, electronic control, interdisciplinary talents are necessary to form the team. We welcome undergraduates to study on these aspects to enhance the knowledge regarding fuel cell technology and hydrogen energy."
 
Then, professor Wang briefly introduced the recruitment procedure: "There are requirement on the staff, especially on the research area. It is mainly about their research background and ability, which are the basics. After reviewing the resume, if we think the area is matching, an interview will be arranged. The interviewees will be asked about their research background and our judgment will be based on our needs. Many questions will be asked to determine whether they are appropriate or not."
 
Professor Wang welcomed the joining of students and provided some advice: "Finishing the courses of MEE department will be enough in terms of courses. As for the development in research, a graduate course named hydrogen fuel cell will be a good choice. If you are not certain about the selection of profession, you may come to our team and stay for a while to know more about this industry." He also suggested that students should make choices based on their interest: "My word on the prospect of this industry is one thing. However, you should understand this technology by yourselves to get a feeling about it. Except energy, MEE department has many other streams, such as robotics and precision manufacture, which are attractive and promising as well. The selection of profession depends on personal interest."


Translator: Xiaochuan Xiao 、Pengfei Ji