Published 23 June 2022 by Gan Huang

Young Scientists at #LINO22 – Splitting Light: Make the Most of Solar Energy

Gan Huang in the solar lab in Karlsruhe. Photo/Credit: in courtesy of Guan Huang

Gan Huang researches renewable energies in Karlsruhe, Germany. But from 26 June 2022, he will be in Lindau, supported by the Carl Zeiss Foundation, to discuss his work with Nobel Laureates and other participants of the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

Solar energy is one of the most abundant renewable energy sources, and effective solar technologies have great potential to alleviate the grand challenge of rising global energy demand while reducing associated emissions. Photovoltaic (PV) technologies have attracted considerable interest in recent decades, as PV cells can convert solar energy directly into valuable electricity without noise and moving parts in simple systems that are easy to install. However, PV cells are sensitive to only a part of the solar spectrum that can be converted to electricity, leading to limited solar utilisation efficiencies. Our research found that solar technologies that spectrally split sunlight are significantly more efficient at generating combined thermal and electrical energy. Spectral-splitting hybrid photovoltaic-thermal solar collectors direct different parts of the solar spectrum to suitable solar receivers, integrating and using synergies in two or more underlying recovery and conversion processes to generate heating, cooling, power, fuel and/or clean water with an efficiency that is higher than separate, standalone solar systems.

An Answer to the Global Crises

My long-term goal in my career is to build a world-leading research group, develop high-efficient renewable energy technologies, and apply them to solve the global challenges of energy, water, fuel and climate change etc.

Gan Huang
Gan’s research addresses the climate crisis. Photo/Credit: in courtesy of Gan Huang

My main project is “Next-generation High-efficient Hybrid Solar Technologies”. I was a postdoctoral research associate at Imperial College London, where I started solar research. After joining the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the research has been further extended and advanced by utilising novel solar photovoltaic materials, microstructure technologies and spectral management methods. The biggest challenge is to develop a high-performance and cost-effective material to spectrally split the solar spectrum into different parts to maximise the solar utilisation of my hybrid photovoltaic-thermal solar collectors. To solve this challenge, we have been developing advanced nanofluids and nanocomposites as optical filters for splitting the solar spectrum. More recently, we fabricated semi-transparent perovskite PV cells supervised by Prof. Bryce S. Richards and Prof. Ulrich W. Paetzold at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, capable of splitting the solar spectrum more effectively. The perovskite PV material is considered to be a cost-effective and high-performance spectral-splitting solution for hybrid solar technology.

Personal Exchange After Years of the Pandemic

One hurdle during the last years was COVID-19, especially at the start of the pandemic when most of the labs were closed, and meetings were either cancelled or moved online. I had to shift my research method from experiment to modelling during the start of the pandemic. Some international collaborations also had to be cancelled. Fortunately, the labs re-opened after a few months, and the experiment was thus able to be continued and finished with a slight delay.

So, I am really looking forward to exchange with scientists from all over the world in Lindau – in person. My most important expectation for the Lindau Meeting is to chat with Nobel Laureates and excellent young scientists. This will be my first time meeting with Nobel Laureates and staying with them for around one week to discuss science and career development in a relaxing environment. I will be eager to listen to the advice from Nobel Laureates for the young scientists in their early-stage academic careers.

Gan Huang

Gan Huang decided to become a scientist as junior PhD student at Tsinghua University. He felt pretty excited when exploring unknown areas, and thus decided to devote his life to science. He has already conducted interdisciplinary research in different world-leading research groups at Tsinghua University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. Now, at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the next step is to focus on advanced energy materials and micro/nano-fabrication technologies for high-efficient solar energy harvesting to get ready to develop his junior research group.