This is another mini-episode in the lead up to World Engineering Day 2021. In this episode we speak to Dr Xiaojing Hao about her work in energy and finding ways to boost the world’s solar power. Imagine if your mobile, or car, or building could become a solar panel and actually generate enough energy to run itself.
There are lots of scientists and engineers working on how to integrate the solar panel into different areas
Dr Xiaojing Hao is the Scientia Associate Professor, Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales.
Xiaojing is a world leader in thin film photovoltaic solar cells; particularly in utilising green semiconductor materials to harvest sunlight for electricity generation. She received her Ph.D. degree from UNSW in 2010. Her research focuses on the design of thin film solar cells and tandem solar cells, and the development of thin film energy materials for solar fuel applications.
Her research on emerging thin film light harvesting materials and silicon-based tandem solar cells has attracted >$24 million external research funding.
Xiaojing has published 145 peer-reviewed journal papers in top journals such as three articles in Nature Energy. Her academic excellence is evidenced by several prestigious awards, such as NSW Premier’s Prize for Science & Engineering in 2018, Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers in 2019, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science (Physical Scientist of the year) in 2020.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 5 Episode 1
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Dr Xiaojing Hao
Xiaojing: [00:00:00] I really like that. Particular, for example, the water and energy and how to make the machine work more efficiently.
[00:00:07] So, I believe engineering are in high demand for our society, particularly develop technologies and the innovations that have real benefit in our world. I’d like to be one of them. And also I’m proud of being one of them.
[00:00:22]Mel: [00:00:22] That’s excellent. Yeah, no, it sounds like you’re so enthusiastic about being an engineer as well, which is great to hear.
[00:00:28]Dom: [00:00:28] So I believe you’ve just recently written an article for Create magazine for Engineers Australia. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[00:00:35] Xiaojing: [00:00:35] uh, yeah, I article is a minute about what I’m doing now and what’s my vision for the future. particularly in the renewable energy.
[00:00:44]Mel: [00:00:44] So you’ve actually, you’re dealing with something a bit more specific than renewable energy. So you’re talking about solar panels as well. So do you want to explain to us about the work that you’re doing in the solar panels?
[00:00:56] Xiaojing: [00:00:56] Yeah. So, um, my work is focused on renewable energy, like harvest in sunlight for electricity generation, and also recently I extended and some of this knowledge and applying this knowledge for the solar field generation as well.
[00:01:13]So I’m actually like a we’d know, all know about the Silicon solars all right. Uh, like we saw them in the solar farm and we saw the Silicon solar panels on our house roof. But actually Silicon is definitely a perfect material for solar cells, but in the meanwhile we also need some environment friendly, very thin materials in applications where Silicon may not well suited to, for example, like directly coating solar cells on building materials or on the car body. So, with that one, you probably, you have the question why we want to do that one. Well, um, I’m working on developing this, thin film of solar cells on different types of surface. The surface, it could have been like for, I suppose then they still, and the, could it be the glass and also, and can be simply even stacked on the Silicon solar cells to boost its power output.
[00:02:12]This way actually we have two parts. So the first part is, the making the currency can subtle also even cheaper, but increase its energy conversion efficiency and the second parts is actually making our solar photovoltaics deployment much broader.
[00:02:30]Mel: [00:02:30] In the article that everyone can read from March 2021, you’ve even said, you’ll be able to coat this on things like your mobile phone or your laptops. And I’m just picturing that you have this coating on your phone and you’d leave it out in the sun and it will charge.
[00:02:45] Is that what you’re envisaging?
[00:02:47] Xiaojing: [00:02:47] So actually that’s.. Your probably like a, sometimes I think that are already some of uh, the product out, like already go to the solar cells on the phone. And that’s, I think in most of the use either amorphous silicon, or just ask crystal Silicon solar cells already. What I want to do is actually. We want to make it a more efficient, we wanted to generate as much electricity as what would we want.
[00:03:11]And also in the unit area, another area, actually, uh, as I mentioned, like we see a lot of solar panels in the solar farm. And then we see like, a lot of solar panels on the roof of the house, but I actually, if we consider the photovoltaic deployment what we want to do is that are we either like to create more power in the unit area or we increase area for the solar cell deployment. So all of those buildings determine the final, total amount of electricity we can generate.
[00:03:46]Dom: [00:03:46] So with flexible cells, does that mean you have far-wider applications in regards to where you can put them as well? So I’m just thinking along the lines of solid panels, because they are rigid and it’s fairly regimented in regards to where it can be located. Does that open up a vast amount of area for you to be able to use these cells as well?
[00:04:06] Xiaojing: [00:04:06] definitely. particular for example, even now, like there are lots of scientists and engineers working on how to integrate the solar panel into different area, like how to put it on the facade of the building.
[00:04:19] In addition to put on the roof of the building, because we have a lot of areas on the facade of a building that the roof area is very limited. I think it’s okay in the residential area when we put on the roof, but imagine that, but we can also use that one for the window, generating electricity.
[00:04:34] Let’s just say for the facade of our house and the particular in the CBD area where we have a very high, intensity of population. But we have very limited area, right? So if we can just coat the whole building with the solar cells, which you can contribute into the electrcity generation.
[00:04:55] That will be perfect. I guess like if the major idea is that we know planting as many trees as possible is really great. Right? And then also we know how the trees absorbthe solar light and the generator, his own energy, like for us it’s oxygen.
[00:05:10] Right. So what are we imagining is if we. If we consider the whole the cityfunction likes a tree and a, we can look, I’m putting our solar cells on the roof and empower the, the function of the, of the building and all the other surface as electricity generators, that we will be perfect.
[00:05:29] Dom: [00:05:29] Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of buildings… I can think of a couple in Sydney that are North facing, which had, if you had cells all over the facade, it’d be amazing the amount of additional power you’d be able to generate.
[00:05:40]Xiaojing: [00:05:40] Yeah. Yeah. And even with consider our solar car. We know our transportation actually contributes to a lot of Greenhouse gas emission. Right? So, when we’re thinking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we should think about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the different aspects of our life.
[00:05:57] Not only, we use more renewable energy in the building, but how we can give the renewable energy and the electricity of the fuel to the car and also empower the carbon renewable energy as well. That’s also another part and I believe we should be okay to see that in the very near future.
[00:06:15] Mel: [00:06:15] So many amazing applications. Why don’t we just keep going with the solar farms that we’ve. We were building. What’s the problem with the existing way that we’re doing things with the solar panels?
[00:06:27]Xiaojing: [00:06:27] I think there’s no problem of just simply using solar farms. But as I mentioned, like for solar farm, it takes Plenty of area in, and you need plenty of space. You need the solar panels, uh, and also for the solar farm you need to the need to put it on the grid and then transmission for that electricity in the high population density area. Imagine most of the solar farm actually is quite a far way from residential areas or quite a far, far away from the area while we have very high population density. Right. So that’s make us just think about how we can tear down this energy transmission loss and also how we can actually increase area where we can use the renewable energy to power, the, let the building to power the transportation. So believe everyone actually saying what is to happen at the moment as we know the critical issue of climate change.
[00:07:21]I think that we are urgent to accelerate the transition to a hundred percent clean energy. So in addition to increase the energy conversion efficiency, we use the, for our traditional Silicon solar panel.
[00:07:34] Definitely., I think another area we can contribute to this transition to a hundred percent clean energy is increase the deployment area for solar energy.
[00:07:44] Dom: [00:07:44] Yeah. And it’s wonderful that we’ve, that you’ve taken that initial concept. That’s been around for such a long time. And I think one of the beauties of engineering is the iterative process, like the next generation and the next generation to just sort of keep improving and keep making it better. And then whilst you’ve solved one problem, you can sort of see that this generated a few more problems and it’s gives you the opportunity to find some more solutions and keep engineering.
[00:08:11] Mel: [00:08:11] And so when do you see this? Is this out on the market or is it close to market or when do you actually see this technology and innovation
[00:08:21] a difference to society?
[00:08:23] Xiaojing: [00:08:23] yeah. So, they are usually several solutions for the same problem, right? But somehow the deployment area actually, we have different requirements. For example, when we use solar panels in the solar farm, Because they’re very far away from end users.
[00:08:40] So we, we won’t consider too much about whether we going to use a toxic materials. All there are some negative impact, because at the end of the life of the solar panel, they going to be managed and the deal with in bulk so they can be recycled. Right. However as a nation, if we want to increase the deployment area, one it’s very close to the end users.
[00:09:04] We have to use some non-toxic environmental friendly materials. What do we can see when we talking to you or different deployment areas, it’s re different requirements on the solar panels. And as some more areas we can use for the regional one, but some of the area we want to use a flexible solar panels and in some of the areas we have a license restrictions on the material we need to use, but some of areas, when they are very close to the users, we have to consider to use environmental friendly materials and also in the new, well, we want to make sure it is as cheap as possible so that everyone can benefit to use it because we know the cost determines large deployment of solar energy.
[00:09:52] Mel: [00:09:52] I definitely approve the, uh, non-toxic, product. So let’s hope that one gets up and going in is cost efficient.
[00:09:59]Dom: [00:09:59] So we’re coming into world engineering day, and I was just wondering, what does world engineering day mean to you?
[00:10:04]Xiaojing: [00:10:04] I think as an engineer, I think it’s a great opportunity To celebrate achievements of engineers and also the engineer in our society. Particularly I think it’s a very good opportunity to improve the public understanding of what we are doing why we are working so hard and what we have done and how important our work is.
[00:10:25] And so I think this is a wonderful opportunity to talk about this aspects and also engage with a much broader community, in the work of engineer, particularly in the renewable energy in the solar photovoltaics. I think it’s not just a celebration, but also it’s an opportunity to encourage us to look ahead at what we can do better in the future.
[00:10:49]I think it can be a springboard for awareness raising actions. As I mentioned, I believe there are multiple. Solutions to the problem, right? For example, climate change. But, uh, how can we, integrate multiple solutions to enhance their efficiency and the effectiveness, and also even better solution we can consider?
[00:11:12] So this is also, I think as it is engineering day we celebrate also, we’re looking ahead for a better solutions. Also I believe what World Engineering day is an opportunity to engage with the government and industry. Like I can show you what we have done. And also we work with them to develop future strategy frameworks, particular for the sustainable development in the future and in the end part. I think as a teacher, as a teacher in the university I think it’s also a very opportunity for us to engage with young generations as you know, we need more engineers, not only now, but also future. We keep to make the innovations and keep to devloping new technology because we want to deal with the problem of daily life.
[00:12:03] So the engineers we not only need now, but also in the future. So I believe this World Engineering day is a good opportunity to promote engineering as a career. So engage and also inspire our younger generations and in particular encouraging some women and female young generations to join the engineering team.
[00:12:25] So, for my area, I think, engineers are key to the transition to that energy, is so important for our future. So, I think it’s very important to have our young generation to get involved in thinking about the future of energy and what we can do for the future of energy.
[00:12:44] Mel: [00:12:44] Thank you so much. That’s so well said. It’s a very important day for engineers everywhere and
[00:12:49] Dom: [00:12:49] I love
[00:12:50] to at least thank you so much for joining us.
[00:12:52]Xiaojing: [00:12:52] Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my views and also share the excitement about celebrating this world engineering day. Thank you.
And thank you for listening to Engineering Heroes as we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. You can view shownotes, or more about our podcast by visiting our website. www.engineeringheroes.com.au
Be sure to mark the 4 of March in your diary and celebrate world engineering day by doing something special or extraordinary.
We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.