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I come to SUSTech to contribute the development of fuel cell technology in China



Recently, the first version of 2016 “Peacock Team” in Shenzhen has been published. The team focusing on fuel cell for vehicle is one of the approved team. The team leader is Prof. Haijiang Wang, coming from the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering in SUSTech. We have the opportunity to have face-to-face talk with Prof. Wang and learn valuable knowledge from him.
Prof. Wang used to work as the chief scientist in national research institute in Canada. Currently, he is a chair Prof. in Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering in SUSTech. His research focuses on electrochemical energy and its conversion, which includes proton exchange membrane fuel cell, metal-air cell, microbial fuel cell, direct methanol fuel cell, energy storage battery, high temperature steam electrolysis, electrochemical hydrogen compression and high pressure hydrogen storage. Currently, Prof. Wang is working on the development of automotive fuel stack technology.

【It’s high time for the development of fuel cell in China】
Prof. Wang told us. The automotive fuel stack technology will the key point in future car, which has promising application. Prof. Wang said lots of people do not understand why do we develop the fuel cell. However, if we compare fuel cell with internal combustion engine, fuel cell has the advantage of high efficiency of energy conversion, which is three times of combustion engine. Prof. Wang pointed that every new implementation of energy brings an industrial revolution. The gas turbine is the first one, subsequent internal combustion engineering. He predicted the next industrial revolution would be fuel cell.
The European countries, North America countries, Japan and South Korea have more advance fuel cell technology than that of China. Prof. Wang pointed out that the most practical way to use fuel cell is its application in vehicle. This does not only have the same merit with the electric vehicles in market, but also has longer mileages. Prof. made an example that for two vehicles (fuel cell powered vehicle and electricity powered vehicle). The electric car has to be charged in every 100 kilometers, which costs tediously long time. Whereas, the fuel cell powered car only needs hydrogen, which costs 3 minutes to make the car continue running for 500-700 kilometers. Prof. also told us that the problem of air pollution in China is very serious. Therefore, the market has tremendous need for fuel cell vehicles. The Chinese government supports the development of zero pollution vehicles. The electricity powered vehicle and fuel cell powered vehicle are the right vehicles. “There are many problems existing in electricity powered vehicle, which has been widely acknowledged as a transition for vehicles. The ultimate vehicle is fuel cell vehicle”, as remarked by Prof. Wang, “Thereby, we endeavor for the research and design of fuel cell powered vehicle.
Prof. told us that majority universities in foreign countries have worked on fuel cell powered vehicle. Because the technology required for fuel cell is more complex than conventional cell, we need to construct my hydrogen station, which is like the gas station to provide energy supply for vehicle. Taking the US for example, the Los Angles and San Francisco in California build around 30 hydrogen stations, which results in around 100 fuel cell powered vehicles. Prof. Wang pointed out that the conditions of fuel cell in China and foreign countries are different. In the foreign countries, the technology pushes the market. However, in China, the market leads technology. The reason lies at China has to solve the pollution problem at the present. Therefore, the zero pollution vehicle is not only demanded by market, but also the government. Prof. Wang also pointed out that the foreign countries do not need large amount of public transit vehicles. Therefore, the demand of fuel cell powered vehicle starts from sedan. However, China start from public transit vehicle.

 【Come back China and sign with SUSTech】
Prof. Wang told us that the reason leading him working on the way of academic research is his major electrochemistry. Fuel cell is an equipment transforming electrochemical energy to electric power. Many scholars who major electrochemistry do research focusing on either battery or fuel cell. When he moved from Utah State University in the US to Canada, he worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources of Canada. Because his advisor worked on the fuel cell, Prof. Wang started his work on fuel cell as well. It has been 20 years since he start from fuel cell in 1997. Subsequently, he moved to National Research Council of Canada to work on hydrogen-based fuel cell.
Prof. Wang joined SUSTech in October 2015. After 20 years work in the field of fuel cell, Prof. Wang believes the technology has been mature for the industrialization. He works with his cooperator Prof. Hui Li (Chair Prof. in Department of Material Science Engineering in SUSTech, to facilitate the development of fuel cell and its industrialization in China, which is the primary reason that Prof. Wang joined SUSTech.
Prof. Wang also told us some interesting experience of him. “I have been work in Canada for many projects. I wish to come back China to industrialize the fuel cell. The 1000 plan ensures a good platform and effective support of his work in China.”, said by Prof. Wang. At that time, Prof. Li and Prof. Wang applied the 1000 plan from SUSTech and Tsinghua university, respectively. Considering the two professors worked in the same field, Prof. Wang joined SUSTech later than Prof. Li.
Prof. Wang shows intense passion to fuel cell. He believed that fuel cell would have a promising future in China, which was the reason he decided to come back China. “Fuel cell will drive the industrial revolution and bring a new economy, which is named as hydrogen economy. One can image that it will generate lots of opportunities in the near future”, remarked by Prof. Wang. As for the new era, Prof. Wang expects the young generation try to study it. He hopes people who like environment and new technology join this field.

 【Exciting research work and open attitude to share valuable experience】
When it comes members in Prof. Wang’s team, it contains many excellent researchers. There are 18 members, the majority of whom hold master degrees. There are also some postdocs and Ph.D. graduate students. It should be mentioned that there are many developments that Prof. Wang did in Vancouver International Clean Technology Research Institute. At that time, he worked in a technical development team. Right now, some of the members in Canada join SUSTech and work with Prof. Wang together.
Meanwhile, Prof. Wang said that SUSTech provides plenty of support on the workspace, equipment and human resources. The most obvious one is more than half occupation of labs in N11 building. The flat house near N11 is the recently built hydrogen space. He told us that his team founded a company with SUSTech and Zhengdao Group in Hong Kang, which is a starting up company at the present. There are 18 member in the company, who work on product design and manufacture design. The company is still developing. As expected, there will be 60 members in 2017. After the 1st stage of development, Prof. Wang will go for marketing investment, subsequent of which will be mass production. He confidently told us that the production would be available in next fall. There will be another 2-3 years before the mass production of fuel cell powered vehicles.
Since Prof. Wang worked in Canada and other countries, he found there are many differences between China and the other foreign countries. Not only in culture, but also the pace of working. The style in foreign country is peaceful, while it is much faster in China. He frankly told us. Even though the style of working in China is fast, the effect may not be as good as expected. “There are lots of things that one has no excuse to do, but has to fulfill them by wasting time, which disperses one’s time on research. There are no trivial things abroad. The only thing during the working hours is to work. The effective time focusing on research in China may be short than that abroad”, remarked by Prof. Wang.
As a chair prof. in SUSTech, he takes one course. In this September, he will open a course for graduate student. When it comes to the relationship between education and research, Prof. Wang said research will be effected when a professor teaches one/two courses. Therefore, more time should be spent in research. “Since the fast development of fuel cell. If we do not carry out cutting edge research, other scholars will be ahead of us. Based on this key point, SUSTech should spare more time for his team to do research”, remarked by Prof. Wang.
Facing the prejudice from somebody to scholar, Prof. Wang pointed that not all scholars are like that. “It is a general phenomenon. Since the hydrogen industry is so hot that somebody will grasp the opportunity to make money. If there is no product, it does not make any sense. The goal stimulating Prof. Wang and Prof. Li come from Canada to China, is to develop the fuel cell in China. If this is not the case, they are middle class in Canada with comfortable life, nor back China.
When it comes to the reasonable period of development, Prof. Wang said that it usually needs one/two years to produce the final product. If the period is too long, it will cause many problems. “Some of the investors may lost their patience if the period is longer than three years”, said by Prof. Wang. By taking his research as an example, some of the progress looks like short may cost long time to work out. “From the stage of research and development to produce final product, it is not a two year fast research. Since I have spent twenty years to accumulate on research. The majority of design has been finished in Canada. Therefore, we could make the final product in one/two years”, said by Prof. Wang.

【Welcome student join Prof. Wang’s Lab】
For the student who is interested in his research, Prof. Wang encourages them to join his lab. “My lab welcome undergraduate and graduate students. However, he/she should have a clear goal to work on the fuel cell powered vehicle. Meanwhile, another topic in his lab is to generate hydrogen by means of electrolyzing water. The fuel cell covers many aspects. The difference between our team and other teams is we do interdisciplinary research. We need people in the areas of mechanical manufacture, material science, chemical engineering, fluid mechanics, electrochemistry and electro-control.  Focusing on these topics, we welcome undergraduate student start their research to get more thorough understanding of the industrialization of fuel cell and hydrogen energy”, said by Prof. Wang.
Subsequently, Prof. Wang made an introduction how he recruit people to his lab. As he said, “We have our requirement for the one who is interested in our lab. His/her research topic should fit our demand. The research background and ability are basic requirement. A resume is needed before interview. By listening the interviewee talks about his/her research background, we draw conclusion whether he/she is a good fit. Many questions will be asked during the interview to find the ability of the interviewee.”
Professor welcome the student who is interested in joining his lab. He also made some suggestions. He said “There are enough courses in the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering in SUSTech. If an undergraduate hopes to work on research, a selective course talking about the hydrogen based fuel cell is encouraged to take. If an undergraduate is not sure which major to choose, he/she may come firstly and work with us to see what we do”. As for the final decision, he encourage the student has his/her own decision. He said “One cannot believe that if a major has promising future, he/she will take this major. To understand the major by himself/herself is preferable. Except for energy, there are still other majors in Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering in SUSTech, which attracts people, such as robots, high precision processing. All these majors have promising future. Based on the interest, to communicate with others in these majors are essential.”


Translator: Pengfei Ji