Zhenhai Xia

Materials Science and Engineering Professor Zhenhai Xia, along with professors Liming Dai and Jianfeng Chen from Case Western and Beijing University of Chemical Technology respectively, was awarded the 2019 SOMIYA Award from the International Union of Materials Research Societies (IUMRS).

The award was given for the team’s discovery that carbon nanomaterial, an earth-abundant and cost-effective material, could replace noble metal catalysts like platinum in sustainable energy technologies.

Clean and sustainable energy technologies, such as fuel cells, metal-air batteries and water-splitting, provide virtually zero pollution or greenhouse gas emission. However, these technologies need noble metal catalysts like platinum to boost their chemical reactions and overall productivity.

Carbon nanomaterials like graphene and carbon nanotubes, which are known to be mechanically and electronically robust, could overcome the issues facing platinum. Xia’s team demonstrated that the carbon nanomaterials work better chemically than platinum in highly efficient clean energy conversion devices, and the new advancement could open doors for future research in areas like the automotive industry.    

“Platinum is a limited resource and, due to that, has a very high cost, which has hampered the commercialization of these clean and sustainable technologies,” said Xia. “The carbon nanomaterial could solve this problem.”

The SOMIYA award is one of the top awards in materials community. The team recognized must have collaborated across at least two continents, showcased collaborative work of the highest caliber and recognized by the international materials community, and have an impact on technology or society.