Interview with the Editor-in-Chief, Prof. Chang-Ying Zhao

What is the focus of your research work?

My research mainly focuses on low carbon smart energy, thermal energy storage, heat transfer in porous media, micro/nano thermal radiation, and metamaterial energy devices.

Thermal storage technology is rather important for the stable utilization of renewable energy and is a key technology for low carbon development, with significant and broad research prospects. Over the years, I have devoted myself to the research of high-efficiency thermal storage materials, units and systems, including the research on the modification and stability of thermal storage materials, enhanced heat transfer and structural design of thermal storage units, and the optimization and control of thermal storage systems. We have developed phase change heat storage units and graded phase change thermal storage systems, and studied the influence of different levels of thermal storage units on energy utilization efficiency and the schemes for efficient utilization. In respect of thermochemical heat storage, the design methods of various reactor forms such as fixed-bed and fluid-bed have been studied respectively.

Heat transfer in porous media is center to many industrial applications, e.g., heat exchangers, fuel cells, and carbon dioxide storage. My research is to reveal the mechanism of heat transfer, e.g., boiling, in porous media with complex pore structures, and establish the theoretical models depicting the heat transfer in porous media. These studies can guide the design and optimization of the heat transfer devices as well as the protocol for the geological storage of carbon dioxide, and hence contribute to the energy saving and carbon dioxide storage technology, important to the low carbon development.   

I am also dedicated to the study of micro/nanoscale thermal radiation, aiming to understand how novel micro/nanostructures like metamaterials and metasurfaces interact with visible and infrared thermal photons. Based on this understanding, we develop highly integrated devices with tailored thermal radiative properties with promising applications in energy conversion, electronics cooling, infrared detection and thermal camouflage.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

I will continue to devote myself to low-carbon research such as thermochemical thermal storage, phase change heat storage, heat transfer in porous media, micro/nanoscale thermal radiation, and metamaterial energy devices. On the basis of solving fundamental problems and further improving system performance, I will focus more on the applicability of the research, while strengthening the integration of technological innovation and industrial application, carrying out the transformation of scientific and technological achievements.

By combining renewable energy, energy storage and artificial intelligence based on big data, we will form a smart energy plus energy Internet model, which is a development goal of future energy transformation, and also my long-term research goal. Besides, we will carry out research on the construction of low-carbon demonstration parks and low-carbon cities, explore and solve key technical problems of intelligent energy systems at the application level, and provide technical support for achieving zero carbon emission in the future.

In the short term, my research on micro/nanoscale thermal radiation aims to explore, both theoretically and experimentally, the fundamental principles and exotic properties brought by micro/nanostructures to the transport and conversion of thermal radiation. In the long term, our goal is to fully exploit these exotic properties to push the limit of energy transfer and conversion efficiencies and develop disruptive technologies with the potential of transforming the energy utilization structure in current power, electronics and other industry sectors.

Which UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) does your work most closely relate to? (if any)

My work is closely related to SDG13: Climate Action and SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy. As climate change is a huge threat faced by all human beings, net zero emissions/carbon neutrality has become a global goal for the entire civilization. Achieving carbon neutrality requires an extensive and profound economic and social systemic change, involving all levels of the economy and society, but the first and foremost should be a deep systemic change in energy. The transformation of the energy structure must be based on advanced energy technologies. My research area is focused on energy, involving low carbon energy, thermal storage, heat transfer in porous media, micro/nanoscale thermal radiation, and metamaterial energy devices. Among them, thermal storage and renewable energy are my main research directions, which are most closely related to low carbon development and addressing global climate change. I will keep conducting research and enhancing international cooperation to increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy consumption and improve the energy efficiency, which is of significance to both the Affordable and Clean Energy goal, and the Climate Action goal. Moreover, as aforementioned, my study on micro/nanoscale thermal radiation aims to explore novel energy transfer and conversion technologies which, for instance, could improve the efficiency of solar cells and efficiently utilize low-grade thermal energy, and therefore have potential in reducing the net carbon emissions.

What do you believe are the most effective ways of communicating your research?

From my perspective, there are various ways of communicating research. First of all, our research group will continuously publish our research on international journals, authoritative academic websites, and official websites of relevant institutions. Also, we will actively take part in important international conferences and workshops to showcase our latest and significant research findings.

What advice do you have for researchers who are looking for ways to make societal impact, in other words, impact beyond their scholarly circle/academia?

First, they should be fully devoted to the research they are doing with continuous passion and try to come up with innovate, up-to-date, feasible research ideas applicable for the industries. They could promote their research findings by attending more domestic and international academic workshops as well as industrial forums and submitting papers to international journals.

How does the new open access journal Carbon Neutrality play a role with SDG13 and SDG7?

SDG13: Climate Action calls for urgent action to combat climate change, and SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy sets an objective to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy for all. I believe these two goals are interrelated and both are covered in the journal of Carbon Neutrality, as energy transformation plays an essential role in tackling climate change and achieving net zero emissions. Carbon Neutrality is an international, multi-disciplinary journal focused on low carbon topics including clean and renewable energy, integrated energy systems, energy storage, carbon sink and carbon sequestration, environmental governance, carbon finance and management, low-carbon policies, etc. By launching this new open access journal Carbon Neutrality, we encourage scientific innovation in low carbon research and aim for creating an international platform for multi-disciplinary scientists including social scientists and engineers, policymakers, as well as businesses to communicate frontier research on solutions to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and tackle the issue of climate change. As a comprehensive journal, Carbon Neutrality publishes various types of articles focused on the theme of low carbon, and each paper is expected to include a discussion of its contribution towards the carbon neutrality goals. In this way, we will be able to analyze from time to time if we are getting closer to the ultimate goal of net-zero carbon emissions and how far we are from achieving this goal.