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China Daily / 2021-06 / 11 / Page020

Talented researchers deliver high-tech advances in Shanxi

By YUAN SHENGGAO | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-11 00:00

Province seeks to cut its reliance on coal and contribute to nation's innovation

Zhang Jing, a professor at Shanxi University in the provincial capital of Taiyuan, has a tight schedule every workday.

After giving lectures to students in the classroom, he continues his busy research in the laboratory.

The Shanxi University Photoelectronics Research Institute, where Zhang serves as chief, operates a key national lab for quantum optics and photon devices.

Zhang has led a number of provincial and State-level research programs with international influence in Shanxi. This quantum lab is a new force driving high-tech development in the province.

Zhang is not alone in scientific research in Shanxi. There is a talent pool of researchers who work for a number of high-tech labs and research institutions.

In the first quarter of this year, 14 laboratories in Shanxi were added to the lists of national and provincial key labs. It demonstrates a surge of innovation capacity building in the province.

One such project is the laboratory for the research on clean and efficient utilization of coal-based energy resources in Taiyuan University of Technology.

The lab has a history of 36 years in coal-related research. Now it is focusing on how to converting coal into new energy resources, for example, hydrogen and gasoline as well as new materials such as graphene and synthetic chemicals. The lab is expected to play an important role in reducing pollution from coal, said Xie Kechang, its founder.

"Coal is the most important energy resource in China. However, it is also one of the largest sources of pollution," Xie said. "Promoting the clean and efficient use of coal is the only solution to this problem."

Coal can be turned into a clean energy resource if its utilization efficiency substantially improves, Xie said. "Technologies for the complete combustion of coal and the use of advanced sulfide and nitride recycling devices can significantly reduce emissions while improving the utilization rate of resources."

The scientist added that developing coal-based chemicals with clean production processes represents another important direction for the clean utilization of coal.

Also engaged in the study of efficient coal utilization similar to the TUT is a corporate research entity-the lab of Jinneng Holding in Datong.

Leaders of the company are preparing to apply for a national key lab status for its green and low-carbon coal utilization lab. The lab is scheduled to implement more than 20 research projects during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).

While these coal research labs are trying to tap resources in the depths of the Earth, a lab owned by the Taiyuan-based North University of China is venturing into outer space.

The lab has carried out research for China's major astronautical exploration programs in recent years. This includes the moon-landing mission of the Chang'e 5 spaceship, the launch of Beidou communications satellites and the Mars exploration mission of the Tianwen 1 spaceship.

The NUC lab's research focuses on the design and production of flight data recorders, or black boxes, for collecting, recording and measuring key data and parameters of various space missions.

"In environments with high temperatures, high pressure and strong radiation, you cannot rely on radio devices for effective data transmission," said Zhang Huixin, head of the NUC lab. "Black boxes are the most reliable means for acquiring flight data."

But the safe recycling of black boxes is the most challenging task after space missions. The black boxes are always affected by unpredictable environments, according to Hu Haifeng, a researcher at the lab. "So the design and manufacturing of black boxes is a very demanding job."

However, the lab has fulfilled its mission by using its independently developed technologies, according to Zhang Guojun, deputy chief of the lab. "You cannot buy the key technologies for space research from foreign countries. The only solution is independent development by our researchers in China."

Shanxi is promoting an innovation-driven strategy to help with its economic transformation. This involves reducing its reliance on the coal industry, fostering emerging and high-tech industries and upgrading traditional industries with high technologies.

The development of laboratories for key technologies will be of great significance to making this transformation possible, said Mei Dongliang, an official responsible for development of research platforms at the Shanxi Department of Science and Technology.

According to Mei, key national or provincial labs have been established for all 14 strategic emerging sectors in Shanxi. They include semiconductors, coal-based new materials, special metals and big data.

"There are 64 key provincial labs serving the 14 strategic emerging sectors and 39 key provincial labs for other industries," Mei said.

These key labs had commercialized 211 research results by the end of 2020, generating a total of 7.8 billion yuan ($1.22 billion) in profit.

"More importantly, the labs have played a crucial role in supporting Shanxi's high-quality and innovation-driven development, making the province an important part of the national innovation system,"Mei said.

Wu Jia contributed to this story.


A researcher conducts an experiment in a semiconductor technology lab at North University of China. WU JIA/FOR CHINA DAILY





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