To Inspire. To Be Inspired. – 30 Stories on HKUST Faculty, Alumni and Students

85 Clean energy is important to our future. Powering our world purely on sustainable and renewable energy sources is possible, but it will take time. Behind the scenes, hardworking scientists, innovators, and engineers are busy at work, and among them is Prof. Henry Yan He, whose research into solar cells could make our transition to solar energy much more efficient. Harnessing solar energy from photovoltaic panels (solar panels) is a familiar sight. But even with panels installed on the roofs of buildings and in solar farms spread across desolate lands, the question remains: “If the sun shines in most places, why isn’t solar everywhere?” That’s because it is still relatively complicated and energyconsuming to produce conventional solar cells. Prof. Henry Yan’s research examines the design and synthesis of organic/polymer materials to create high-efficiency, low-cost, and environmentally friendly organic solar cells (OSC). “It is possible that we may produce solar cells in the same way that we print newspapers,” says Prof. Yan. “This is very efficient — imagine being able to print solar cells just as you would a newspaper.” Prof. Yan didn’t always plan on becoming a professor. Before joining HKUST in 2012, he and his research group worked for Polyera Corporation, a leading private firm in the Organic Electronics industry in the US. They were the first team to publish an article about a high-mobility n-type semiconducting polymer in the acclaimed scientific journal Nature. The breakthrough was referred to as the dawn of a “new transistor age” on the journal’s cover, and the science was a huge step towards improving the usability, applications, and efficiency of solar cells. He joined HKUST to share his knowledge for the benefit of society: “I realized that by becoming a professor, I could choose to solve the fundamental problems that limit the commercialization of the technology.” During his time at HKUST, Prof. Yan’s work in the development of OSC has broken multiple world records in efficiency, and he was placed on the National Renewable Energy Lab’s “Best Research-Cell Efficiency Chart” in 2015. That same year, Prof. Yan’s research group demonstrated a worldrecord organic photovoltaic (OPV) efficiency of 11.5%, the first major scientific research achievement in the Greater China region to be recorded in the internationally recognized NREL best-efficiency chart in the past 40 years. His group has published several important papers on their work, and one paper in Nature Comm has been cited over 3,000 times in the last few years. Prof. Yan has received numerous accolades for his outstanding achievements and research into highperformance OSC technology, such as Tencent’s Xplorer Prize in the field of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2020. Despite this academic success, Prof. Yan says “the ultimate goal for the research is to commercialize the technology for societal impact.”