Renewable energy is crucial for the generations to follow

13.09.2017

Fossil energy resources are limited and the overconsumption of the non-renewable resources creates great environmental challenges, says Yongdan Li, Professor of Industrial Chemistry.

(Photo: Helena Seppälä)

What do you research and why?

My research concentrates on renewable energy systems. The focus is on the development of catalytic reactors and processes. In recent years I have led research projects on photo catalytic water splitting, lignin de-polymerization, solid oxide fuel cell with non-hydrogen fuels, direct carbon fuel cell, selective catalytic reduction of NOx with ammonia, hydrogen production with membrane reactors and non-aqueous flow batteries.

My research group at the Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering focuses on renewable energy resources, such as biomass and solar energy, as we know that the fossil energy resources are limited and the overconsumption of the fossil resources creates great environmental challenges. Renewable energy will not run out. Developing the renewable energy processes is crucial both for ourselves and the generations to follow.

What brought you into the field of research?

When I was young, China was very poor, and I thought that research on catalysis was something that could help to accelerate the economic growth of my country. I started my studies at the university already at the age of fifteen and was qualified as an engineer of catalytic technologies. Until 1995 my work concerned mainly the existing technologies of the industry, but since 2005 the emphasis has been on research of renewable energy technologies. The transition took 10 years.

I have recently come to Finland and Aalto University from Tianjin University, China, where I worked as a full professor since 1994 and Cheung Kong chair professor of Industrial Catalysis since 2007. During this period I had the opportunity to work as a visiting researcher and professor in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (1999), EPFL in Lausanne (2007), University of Michigan (2009) and Yale University (2015).

What have been the highlights of your career?

When China was a very poor country and badly needed well-educated people, I dedicated myself to teaching and developing the education system. I consider that as one of the most important things I have done. Now that things are better in my country, I have got the opportunity to continue my career in Europe.

What are the most important qualities for a researcher?

You need to be determined and persistent. Work opportunities in business and money are so attractive that many good researchers switch from research to business life.

What is the most important thing that you want teach to your students?

Learn as much as possible, advance science and use your opportunities. The world is open for you.

What do you expect from the future?

I enjoy teaching and am looking forward to teaching at Aalto. I like the tranquility here in Finland. Here you can concentrate more on what you are doing. In China there are much more meetings, for example, so it is more difficult to concentrate on research and teaching.