Skip to main content

SOAR fellow unlocking the key to sustainable energy

18 August 2017
Striving for safe and reliable renewable energy

Dr Yixiang Gan is researching how heat transfers through porous matter such as sand and rock. Understanding the physics of these granular materials may be the key to dependable energy systems.

Solar panels

Granular materials such as sand and rocks are of interest not only to children in playgrounds, but also to engineers looking to reinvent the way we fuel the world. Dr Yixiang Gan from the School of Civil Engineering specialises in granular materials research. His work focuses on how the mechanics and physics of granular (and porous) materials can affect the efficiency and reliability of renewable energy systems, such as solar thermal storage and battery systems.

“We are living in a time of transition from fossil-based to sustainable energy sources. My research aims to improve our fundamental understanding of the transport phenomena - including transport of electrons, heat and ionic species - to improve the efficiency, reliability and safety of energy systems, and reduce their risk of failure. The research impact will also extend to national policy on renewable and sustainable energy resources, by providing government with credible information regarding feasibility and risk analyses,” says Dr Gan.

Last year Dr Gan received a SOAR fellowship as part of a funding scheme by the University of Sydney established to help researchers reach their full potential and have a lasting impact with in their respective fields.

“The support of the SOAR fellowship offers unique opportunities to enhance my research profile and allow an acceleration of my current research plans. In addition, the fellowship allows us to further develop synergies between the research outcomes and fast growing industries in energy storage systems through patent development and commercialisation,” says Dr Gan.

One of Dr Gan’s areas of specialisation is nuclear fusion, a reaction that produces extreme amounts of energy from the collision of subatomic particles. For years researchers have explored ways in which nuclear fusion can be harnessed as a viable source of renewable energy. However, safe and reliable nuclear fusion has proven tremendously difficult to achieve. Dr Gan is part of the global effort to develop solutions in this complex field, providing his expertise in granular materials to leading researchers across France, Germany, India, USA and China.

With the help of SOAR funding, Dr Gan will further contribute to nuclear fusion research, by leading the international organising team for the second International Workshop on Mechanics of Energy Materials which will be held in the Sydney Centre in Suzhou, China. The workshop aims to provide a platform to disseminate and promote state-of-art research, facilitate scientific discussion, and establish collaboration, in the field of mechanics of energy materials. They will not only explore mechanics problems encountered in nuclear materials but also in lithium-ion batteries, geothermal energy, thermal energy storage and thermoelectric materials.