UNSW boasts two of Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers for 2019

UNSW Associate Professor Xiaojing Hao and UNSW alumnus Julian O’Shea have been celebrated as some of the country’s most innovative engineers

xiaojing hao

Dr Xiaojing Hao of UNSW's Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics.

A global leader in kesterite cells, UNSW Associate Professor Xiaojing Hao, and inventor of the world’s first circumnavigation by solar tuk tuk, UNSW alumnus Julian O’Shea, have been celebrated as some of the country’s most innovative engineers.

The annual awards run by Engineers Australia celebrate 30 Australian engineers who are finding innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Xiaojing Hao, a Scientia Fellow in the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, has been recognised for her world-leading research in the field of kesterite photovoltaics.

Hao and her team have been building solar cells made of kesterite materials, which are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than other thin film photovoltaic market competitors and provide renewable energy solutions without posing environmental concerns.

“It’s an honour to be named one of the country’s leading engineers in this fascinating field and this achievement would not be possible without the hard work and talent of my team,” says A/Professor Hao.

Between 2016 and 2018, Hao and her team set four new world records for kesterite solar cell efficiency. In March 2017, Hao’s team increased that efficiency to 11 per cent and this was the first time that the 10 per cent efficiency threshold was broken for this type of solar cell. These breakthroughs represent a major advance in the development of solar cells that are flexible, low-cost and non-toxic.

She hopes to improve the efficiency of kesterite photovoltaic cells to 20 per cent in the next five years. “I hope that this technology can be deployed more widely both in Australia and globally in the near future,” she says. Associate Professor Hao’s cutting-edge work has been previously recognised by several prizes and honours including the 2018 UNSW Engineering Faculty Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research and the highly prestigious NSW Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering.

Meanwhile, UNSW Master of Engineering Science alumnus (2008) Julian O’Shea is the Founder of education organisation Unbound, which partners with UNSW Sydney on international education and study tour programs for university students. Julian developed the SolarTuk Expedition, a world-first journey around the globe by solar electric tuk to promote sustainable mobility and show that low-carbon vehicles can be affordable. This was done in collaboration with SolarTuk team member and UNSW Photovoltaics Engineer Matt Edwards.

“Unbound leads global study tour programs across the Asia Pacific region, and it was during a trip in Thailand, zipping around the streets of Bangkok in a tuk tuk, that I questioned why we don’t have these in Australia. Wanting to change that and make a sustainability project, I decided to get a tuk tuk and convert it into a solar vehicle. Over the course of a year we built an education and outreach vehicle that we have now driven across Australia in a quirky, engaging and fun vehicle,” he says.

“It’s an honour to be recognised in this forum and is fantastic recognition for everyone involved in the SolarTuk Expedition. This has been a crazy project, and it’s great to see it engage and inspire people across Australia and the globe,” he continued.

The modified SolarTuk has a top speed of 50 km per hour, produces zero emissions, and can be powered directly by the sun or charged from the electricity grid. In December 2018 the SolarTuk Expedition completed a 3,000km journey from Melbourne to the Great Barrier Reef.

Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers is an annual program run by create magazine, the publication of Engineers Australia. Now in its fourth year, listing seeks to recognise engineering innovation and raise the profile of the profession by showcasing the important role engineers play in solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. Find out more information on the awards and winners