Yang Bai wants to create a material that allows us to get renewable energy from everywhere

Research Pitching Competition finalist Yang Bai from University of Oulu has an idea that takes renewable energy production to the next level. Instead of solar panels and wind turbines, this finalist would like to create multi-functional energy generators that can turn any renewable energy into electricity.


You want to create a new kind of multi-functional material that can collect energy from renewable sources and turn it into electricity. What is new about your idea?

We already have different single-functional material, such as solar panels that can collect solar energy and turn it into electricity. This material that I am developing would allow us to use one material to collect solar energy as well as thermal energy and kinetic energy and convert it into electricity with only one single piece of material. This will be much more advanced and efficient than any other single-functional energy generator we have today.

In this competition we are looking for the wild in research. What is the wildest thing you would like accomplish as a researcher?

I would like to be able to create a better connection between the industry, society and basic research. We have problems in the industry that we try to solve in academia, in a very theoretical way. I would like to see these three merge in a more profound way and also encourage different players in the society interact with research.

Your idea suggests that we could cut down CO2 emissions if we can produce more efficient materials for harvesting energy. What would you like to see happen in your industry in the future?

My dream would be to have electricity generated everywhere. We have so many objects around us that can function as a source of renewable energy. We can do so much more than just wind turbines and solar panels.

What made you want to get up on the Slush stage and pitch your research?

I have pitched many times and taken part in another science pitching competition called Three Minutes Thesis years ago for a different research topic. I like this kind of public engagement by pitching, letting people know what is happening in research. It is now time for me to talk about the this topic I am now focusing on. Also, going on stage and pitching is an exciting experience.

When did you decide to become a researcher?

I am originally from China and went to the UK to do my Master’s degree. The usual route would have been to finish the degree and go back to China to find a job in the technology market. But my thesis supervisor was very happy with my work and suggested I should start a phd in energy harvesting. So I decided to go for it.

Yang’s wild idea:

In my research, a multi-functional material will be created. It is expected to be sensitive to solar, thermal and kinetic energy sources, and thus be able to efficiently convert them into electricity simultaneously on only one single piece of this material. In particular, the energy conversion will be as efficient as that of solar cells and thermal/kinetic generators. In this case, the multi-functionality will be useful in two ways. First, the material can be used to fabricate a multi-source energy harvester, which is able to convert sunlight, temperature change and vehicle pressure/machinery vibration/human motion efficiently into electricity, but only with one component. This will be much more advanced and efficient than using the current solar cells and other generators, for instance, to build a renewable power station/facility at any scale from portable to mega-size. Second, for instance, on the same material the sunlight-electricity conversion can be used as a power source whilst the other conversions can be used as sensors. The change may save up to 70 % energy consumption of the current electric and electronic systems. It contributes to energy-neutral (gaining electricity from renewable sources) and zero-emission (energy efficient design) electric and electronic systems. I have found the early evidence towards the final success of this research idea. It is very likely to gain ground-breaking progress within the next 5 years.