Professor Zongping Shao dreams of an inexpensive electric car that can drive 500 km on a single charge with a battery that reaches 80% capacity within half an hour.
The clean energy researcher works with scientists around the world to make lithium-ion batteries more efficient, spearheading the development of electric cars globally.
Lithium-ion batteries are typically used in smartphones and portable electronics but Shao is working on more powerful batteries for use in transportation and large-scale energy storage. While electric cars with lithium-ion batteries are already available, Shao says they are expensive and can be dangerous.
“We’re trying to reduce the price of the lithium battery and also to increase the safety and performance. It’s very complicated, as we need to both develop the material and design the battery.”
Shao hopes to see electric cars make up 5% of the vehicles on the road within the next five years. “It’s a challenge we have to face. We are going to run short of petrol in the near future, and electric cars may be the better solution.”
Shao’s other main field of research is the development of solid oxide fuel cells that can convert hydrocarbons into electricity and be used to generate clean power. He is working on a high-temperature, low-emission fuel cell that operates at 500–800°C. This would be able to directly convert hydrocarbons such as natural gas or coal into electricity. It would be “much more efficient than a conventional power plant,” he says.
In 2010, at the age of 37, Shao won the National Natural Science Foundation of China’s Distinguished Young Scientist Award – the highest honour for Chinese researchers under the age of 45. He worked in Europe, the US and China before finding a home at Curtin University.
Shao says he enjoys the freedom to research and the support the university provides. “I like to work on something that is still unknown – that’s very attractive to me. And we make a lot of friends all over the world – there’s a lot of cooperation.”
– Michelle Wheeler