Chinese Researchers Pursue Shared Research Targets at Masdar Institute

September 21, 2018

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is leveraging the expertise of one of the world’s most rapidly developing nations with regard to innovation – China – through increasing research collaborations, knowledge exchange and industrial partnerships, to advance the institute’s mission of supporting the UAE’s knowledge economy transformation.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, will be in China from Sunday to sign a range of agreements with the Beijing leadership in finance, investment, logistics, energy, education and technology. A research agreement between Masdar Institute and a leading Chinese university is expected to part of the agenda.

The agreement is likely to enhance Masdar Institute’s engagement with China and its outstanding innovators, many of whom work and study at Abu Dhabi’s research-driven graduate university. The Institute currently has a number of Chinese faculty, students and post-docs who enrich the institute with their talent, expertise and dedication while leveraging the research infrastructure and support provided at Masdar Institute to develop solutions of relevance to the needs of both China and the UAE.

Among the faculty from Chinese descent, Dr. Linda Zou, Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Masdar Institute, is spearheading a number of critical research projects of relevance to the UAE and China.

She is the principal investigator on the Masdar Institute, Veolia and Masdar collaboration, which is focused on evaluating the current performance and potential enhancements for capacitive deionization (CapDI) technology, which is an emerging low energy technology for the removal of variously charged particles from water-based solutions, making it ideal for desalination processes. It has the potential to provide a more energy-efficient way to polish and treat water. Dr. Zou’s collaboration is focused on getting this technology to market so it can help meet water treatment needs not only in the UAE, but around the world.

Both the UAE and China have a growing need for freshwater conservation and treatment, intensified by rapidly growing and developing populations. A study by China’s Ministry of Water Resources found that approximately 55% of China’s 50,000 rivers that existed in the 1990s have disappeared, while the UAE has long relied on desalination to meet its natural freshwater shortfall, as it is among world’s most water-scarce nations.

Dr. Zou is also leading further research that seeks to capitalize on recent advancements on nanoparticle technologies to develop cutting-edge wastewater treatment technologies. She and her team have made significant progress in the development of novel water purification membranes. Her project aims to produce freshwater suitable for agricultural use through an innovative hybrid approach, which combines two technologies – nano-filtration membranes and reverse osmosis.

“Relying on membrane processes alone, such as reverse osmosis, not only remove the contaminants, but also some beneficial nutrients,” Dr. Zou explained. “Through our hybrid approach, which involves the use of nanoparticles to help filter the water, we are able to retain some of these valuable nutrients in the recycled water, which can then be used for both agricultural and industrial uses.”

Ahead of Chinese trip, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar, told UAE media that deeper involvement with China would further contribute to the UAE’s economic development and open investment opportunities in areas including renewable energy, telecommunications, infrastructure, rail, aerospace and finance. These are sectors of critical importance to both countries.

Another Masdar Institute faculty member who is advancing the cutting edge of some of these fields is Dr. TieJun Zhang, Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

Dr. Zhang is currently conducting research aimed at increasing solar power generation efficiency with applications of direct relevance to Shams 1– the Middle East’s largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant. To that end, Dr. Zhang is developing an integrated solar power and cooling system that generates power using solar thermal energy and cools the air using liquid hydrocarbons. The work has already produced new innovation in the design of surfaces of heat exchange equipment useful for solar and other applications.

He additionally received a UAE National Research Foundation grant of AED175,000 this year for his industry collaboration project with Shams Power Company, which is directly aimed at increasing the plant performance and hence further elevating its relevance to country’s National Innovation Strategy. The worked is aimed at collecting field data from the 100 MW Shams-1 parabolic trough CSP Plant and developing and evaluating novel CSP plant control strategies for possible implementation.

“It’s our great honor and mission to support the UAE’s solar industry and continue in meeting Abu Dhabi’s goal of producing 7% of its power from renewable energy,” Dr. Zhang said upon receiving the grant. “I believe the new knowledge we are discovering together is beneficial to people in hot and arid regions all over the world.”

It has been reported that Beijing is considered increasing its solar energy goals to 200 gigawatts of electricity by 2020, nearly quadrupling its previous target. The UAE also increased its renewable energy goals in an outline of legally binding actions submitted ahead of the Conference of Parties in Paris, pledging to generate 24% of its electricity from clean energy sources by 202​1.

Dr. Sid Chi-Kin Chau, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is another one of Masdar Institute’s Chinese faculty who are leading innovative research. He is working with a team of researchers from Masdar Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop an urban sensing and modeling system for the management of the thermal environment of cities and the of urban neighborhoods to account for interactions between buildings and their environment. The goal of the project is to support reduced energy demand for cooling in neighborhoods and cities.

Due to Dr. Chau’s expertise in computer science and network design, he is the project lead on the design of wireless networks, specification of sensors, communication and power technologies and deployment of wireless sensor stations and mobile concentrators. The outcomes of the work will greatly benefit cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are located in hot climates and that have substantial power demands from cooling loads required to cool city residents through many months of the year.

China recently submitted a plan to the United Nations stating it will cut greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 60-65% from 2005 levels. While the UAE has no stated greenhouse gas emission reduction goal, it is also looking to reduce fossil fuel use and increase energy efficiency, which will have a similar result.

A number of Masdar Institute’s Chinese students and post-doctoral researchers are also participating in groundbreaking research that is of potential relevance to a number of dynamic and valuable industries.

“When I applied at Masdar Institute, I wanted to attend somewhere with cultural diversity. It also has a collaboration with MIT and its microsystems faculty are some of the best in the world, especially in the semiconductor area. Now I am working on something that will have a direct impact on the UAE. The project we are working on now relates to Gallium Nitride (GaN), which is considered a next generation semiconductor material, and has so many applications including for power and wireless applications. We are currently trying to develop a prototype for high frequency wireless applications,” revealed Masdar Institute MSc alumnus and current research engineer Yue Xu.

Fellow alumnus Chia-Yun Lai, who continued at Masdar Institute for her Doctorate studies, is also exploring research of relevance to high-tech industries. After becoming one of the first investigators to establish the relationship between different length-scale wettability measurements for the wetting of surfaces improved spatial resolution during her Master’s studies. Surface wettability is the ability of a liquid to maintain contact with a solid surface and is important in a number of applications of relevance to the industries targeted in the UAE and China, including energy, semiconductor, electronics and plastics.

The UAE is the largest Middle East market for Chinese products, with 4,200 Chinese companies reportedly registered in the country. Bilateral trade has been increasing over the years, and reached around $54.8 billion this year. With the new UAE-China agreements expected to be signed in Beijing next week, Masdar Institute looks forward to greater collaboration with China’s leading universities and companies.

Zarina Khan
Senior Editor
12 December 2015