Professor Bing-Joe Huang wins prestigious Humboldt Research Award - National Taiwan University of Science and Technology
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Professor Bing-Joe Huang wins prestigious Humboldt Research Award

oProfessor Bing-Joe Hwang, the father of Taiwan battery research, is an unassuming, soft-spoken man. The world renowned researcher in electro-chemistry war born in the southern city of Kaohsiung, and received his entire university education at National Cheng Kung University, Tainan. In 1988, he joined Taiwan Tech, the then National Taiwan Institute of Technology. Before that, he had worked for a private consultancy company, an important experience where he got some understanding of the industry’s view on energy use and conservation.  

Has he ever thought about leaving Taiwan Tech? “There were offers”, he says, “but Taiwan Tech has given me a lot of room to develop and provided excellent research conditions.” And so, he stayed on, became Chair professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Director of the Sustainable Energy Development Center, and contributed to Taiwan Tech’s development from a local institute of technology to an international applied research university. Professor Hwang, whose work may be dubbed “applied basic research”, sees himself more as a scientist than an engineer: “A scientist is an open-minded person who is interested in the matter itself and would discuss with colleagues from all disciplines to find solutions. Engineers are much more goal-oriented, they need to get things done. While I was trained as an engineer, I eventually became more like a scientist. That probably suits my personality ...”

His interest in battery research started around 1996, at a time when energy has not yet become the hot topic that it is today. A research stay in Germany, at the Institute of Electrochemistry of Heinrich Heine Universität, in Düsseldorf was the catalyst for this move. Although the German host institute did not work in this field, he would pick up techniques that he later applied to his own research in electrochemistry. Furthermore, the experience in Düsseldorf turned out to be the beginning of a long career of intense international cooperation.  
Hwang has always been keen to pursue new ideas and do pioneering research, but acquiring funding and getting access to the necessary equipment had not been easy in Taiwan in the beginning.
The situation has changed a lot in the meantime, with Taiwan becoming a center of battery research that boasts world-class facilities, such as the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Centre (NSRRC). “I am enjoying the interdisciplinarity of my field”, says Hwang, “the NSRRC is an excellent platform for national and international researchers. When I am doing experiments at the NSRRC, I have the chance to meet scientists from other institutions and disciplines and exchange ideas.”

Other important stages of his career were the research stays at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2001) and at Stanford University (2015). At the MIT, he got introduced to computational techniques which became useful for his own research that focuses on lithium-ion batteries. During his stay in Stanford, he got involved in a research project on aluminum-ion batteries which 
have shorter charging times and better safety features, but cannot compete with lithium-ion in terms of energy density. 

oWhile Bing-joe Hwang has built up an extended international network with researchers from the US, Japan, and Europe, cooperation with German scientists greatly intensified after the German-Taiwan Battery Research Program was launched in 2017. Last year, Bing-Joe Hwang was awarded the prestigious Humboldt Research Award - based on nominations by the German Science Community - which gives testimony of the fruitful cooperation. Hwang plans to use the prize money of 60,000 euros to seek new opportunities for cooperation. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has thwarted some of his plans, he is confident that he will be able to go to the Jülich Research Centre in the second half of 2021 to work on solid-state batteries with his German partners.

And what does he see as the biggest challenges for his research? “The training of the next generation of scientists “, he says, ”it has become increasingly difficult to recruit Ph. D. students, due to the declining birth rate and because the Taiwanese chemical industry prefers to hire master's degree holders rather Ph. D. graduates.” In his view, this is quite shortsighted. Electrochemical technology has become so complicated that even for applied industrial research a Ph.D. education will be needed. 
And his advice for his young students? “Be open-minded, go out, and work with researchers from all over the world in different labs. That has been my experience, and that’s what I tell my students today.”  

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Professor Bing Joe HWANG
Department of Chemical Engineering

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