Medal for pioneering work on green hydrogen production

Professor Yao Zheng

Professor Yao Zheng

The pioneering research being undertaken at the University of Adelaide by one of Australia’s leading young chemical engineers has been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS). 

Professor Yao Zheng from the School of Chemical Engineering has been awarded the Le Fèvre Medal for his work on splitting raw sea water without pre-treatment to produce green hydrogen. 

Professor Yao Zheng is an internationally recognised chemical engineer focused on the principles of catalysis and energy materials chemistry for green hydrogen production – a vital component for both environmental and economic sustainability and key to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

“I am honoured to receive the Le Fèvre Medal as recognition of my work from my peers at the Australian Academy of Science,” said Professor Zheng. 

“My work aims to directly benefit society by finding a viable alternative to current methods of generating hydrogen.” 

Producing hydrogen by using electrolysis is not new but the industrial-scale process currently requires abundant supplies of fresh water which needs costly purification before it can be used.  

Professor Zheng and his colleagues successfully split natural sea water into oxygen and hydrogen with nearly 100 per cent efficiency, to produce green hydrogen by electrolysis, using an updated commercial electrolyser. This ground-breaking technology can be scaled up to industry-level applications and pilot plants. 

“My work aims to directly benefit society by finding a viable alternative to current methods of generating hydrogen.”Professor Yao Zheng

The team is working closely with local industry to commercialise this exciting technology by using South Australia’s coastal seawater and renewable energy resources. 

By harnessing renewable energy sources, green hydrogen can be utilised in fuel cells for electricity generation and electrochemical processes to synthesise various commodity chemicals, such as ammonia, methanol and oxygenates, as alternatives to fossil fuels. 

The Le Fèvre Medal recognises outstanding basic research in chemistry by researchers up to 10 years after they have completed their PhD. 

The University of Adelaide’s Professor Anton Middelberg is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research).  

“I congratulate Professor Zheng on being awarded the Le Fèvre Medal by the Australian Academy of Science,” he said. 

“Professor Zheng’s cutting-edge work at the University of Adelaide, is part of the essential wave of disruptive and transformative innovation and research aimed at building more sustainable societies. 

“The work that he and his team are undertaking holds significant potential to drive towards greener industries and reduce pressure on freshwater availability in Australia, and in turn, revolutionise Australia’s green hydrogen industry.” 

Professor Zheng is one of only 22 researchers from around Australia to be honoured by the Academy in this year’s awards who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of science. 

The Academy’s annual honorific awards celebrate the achievements of the country’s leading minds, from researchers who are early in their careers to those who have spent a lifetime contributing to science. 

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