As a world-class research institution, it is not surprising that much attention is focused on sustainability-related research. In 2013, 46 environment-related research projects were conducted at HKUST, gaining over HK$50 million in funding. The scope of these projects covered a wide range of environmental issues including renewable energy production, wastewater treatment, food waste management, air quality, climate change, sewage treatment, green building, green transportation, and green communications. Units contributing to this research included:
- The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
- The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
- The Department of Chemistry
- Office of the Dean of Engineering
- The Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering
- The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
- The Division of Environment
- The Division of Life Science
- The Division of Social Science
- The Guangzhou HKUST Fok Ying Tung Research Institute
Launch of the New HKUST Energy Institute – One of the significant highlights of the year was the creation of the new HKUST Energy Institute. Recognizing the critical nature of global energy resources in light of the urgent challenges of pollution, global climate change, and the desperate need to lift billions of people around the world from poverty, HKUST launched the new Energy Institute to leverage our comparative strengths and research capacities. The Institute provides a multi-disciplinary platform for fostering energy-related research and curricular programs for undergraduate and postgraduate students. With HKUST’s strong background in energy research, the Institute seeks to come up with cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions for the world's pressing energy issues. The strong research teams from HKUST, comprising over 90 faculty members representing strengths in energy generation, energy storage and distribution, energy efficiency and energy policy-making, can influence and help formulate strategies, develop cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions to address the pressing energy concerns.
Nanostructured solar cells –
Professor Zhiyong Fan of the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering and his research team developed a new type of flexible nanostructure for efficient thin film solar cells, which can significantly improve energy conversion efficiency and lead to the manufacturing of solar panels that are lighter, more efficient, flexible and versatile. The invention can supply power for portable electronic devices and generate electricity for large-scale photovoltaic plants, lowering over 65% of costs. The technology can be applied in a wide range of products.
Novel High-speed Energy-saving Transistors –
A research team led by Professor Kei May Lau, Chair Professor in the Department of Electronic & Computer Engineering, has developed a novel "match-making" technology to deposit next-generation high-speed energy-efficient transistors on silicon using high-mobility compound semiconductor materials. These devices seek to reduce power consumption by a factor of 10 and increase switching speed fivefold. The team received the JSAP Outstanding Paper Award by The Japan Society of Applied Physics, the only research team in Hong Kong and Mainland China to receive this award since 1979. Such technology is expected to be widely used by the semiconductor integrated circuits industry sector in the future.
Materials for an "Artificial Leaf" for Solar Fuel Production – CO2 capture and sequestration in geologic and oceanic storage has received support from many governments as a viable strategy for CO2 emissions reductions, albeit a costly and unsustainable solution for the long-term. A more viable and sustainable approach may be the revalorization of CO2 into raw materials for production of fuels and chemicals. Today, CO2 is consumed in the production of urea used in fertilizers and plastics, salicylic acid used in pharmaceuticals, and polycarbonates plastics. However, the demand for CO2 would be considerably larger if it could be converted into fuel. Professor King Lun Yeung in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and his research team are exploring new opportunities in engineering and material innovation for CO2-to-fuel conversion in an "artificial leaf" powered by energy harvested from the sun. The outcomes will create considerable business opportunities, reduce pollution, and at the same time provide energy security for the future.
New Power Source for Our Future –
Using a clean, efficient fuel cell, a model car can go for 10 hours, and an MP3 player can play for 20 hours just on a few drops of alcohol fuel. Fuel cells are more efficient, cleaner, and cost-effective as an energy source, by converting chemical energy of hydrogen, natural gas, and alcohols directly to electricity. Professor Tianshou Zhao and his researchers in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering have become global pioneers in raising the performance of Direct Alcohol Fuel Cells. Among other achievements, his group holds the internationally acknowledged world record for the power density of direct ethanol fuel cells. Professor Zhao foresees that the new fuel cell could make mobile phone batteries last twice as long and improve computers, appliances, and electric cars. Necessary fuel can be generated from common plant sources, such as tangerines or sugar cane.
Environmental Research Grants – A partnership between Ford Motor Company and HKUST created the Ford- HKUST Conservation and Environmental Research Grants Program, which aims to encourage innovation in the field through the availability of research funds. Last year, 23 MSc students from the School of Engineering were awarded funding totaling HK$1 million. All research projects granted were related to environmental sustainability and conservation engineering, with a focus on green motoring and transportation. Not only will the program broaden our students' learning experience, it will further our endeavor to build innovative solutions to the global issues of environmental conservation and sustainability.
Assessment of Public Inhalation Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution in Hong Kong – Air pollution is a major environmental concern in Hong Kong, causing more than 3,000 premature deaths and causing monetary losses of HK$39 billion in 2012, according to the Hedley Environmental Index at the University of Hong Kong. With the urgency of this problem, Professor Alexis Lau and his team in the Division of Environment recognize that the first step is to make sure we have clear, detailed, and meaningful data – data that is scarce in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region. To start, they will build an activity database for the various population subgroups using GPS enable mobile devices.
At the same time, they will measure the concentrations of various criteria pollutants at different outdoor and indoor microenvironments. Building on these results, they anticipate that they will have all the information necessary to develop an air exposure assessment system for Hong Kong which can track the location and time for exposure of air pollutants of different population subgroups. It will also test the difference of total exposure for different subgroups under different air control strategies, thereby analyzing and determining the most effective strategy to reduce the overall health burden for Hong Kong population.