The University of Michigan and Shanghai Jiao Tong University are awarding a joint research team $200,000 to support a project investigating high-capacity Li-air batteries for electric vehicle applications. The award was one of six to teams awarded through a new joint program teaming up investigators from both schools in the areas of renewable energy and biomedical technologies.

The goal of the Li-air project is to combine experiments and computational modeling to identify optimal cathode catalysts for Li-air batteries that could power low-cost electric vehicles with a driving range comparable to today’s gasoline-powered vehicles.

Principal investigators are Donald Siegel, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan; Zi-Feng Ma, Department of Chemical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University; and Xianxia Yuan, Department of Chemical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.


All six first-round winners were announced at a ceremony in Shanghai. At the same event, officials from both universities formally approved the joint research program, signing a resolution on collaborative research that commits each school to spending $3 million over the next five years.

Each of the six winning teams receive $200,000. The projects were selected from 39 proposals—20 in biomedical technologies and 19 in renewable energy—submitted by teams that include researchers from both U-M and SJTU.

The goal of the U-M/SJTU Collaborative Research Program in Renewable Energy Science and Technology is to develop new technologies that reduce global carbon emissions and their impact on climate change. The Collaborative Research Program in Biomedical Technologies will spur technological advances that improve human health.

The other winning projects in the renewable energy category are:

  • High-efficiency hybrid solar cells based on carbon nanotube enhanced nanostructures. Goal: Integrate single-walled carbon nanotubes into existing silicon and polymer photovoltaic devices to create high-efficiency hybrid solar cells. Principal investigators: Yafei Zhang, Research Institute of Micro/Nanometer Science & Technology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Zhaohui Zhong, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan.

  • Large-panel integrated-light transmitting and solar energy-harvesting façade systems for net-zero energy-efficient buildings. Goal: Build and test a prototype of a new, high-efficiency “smart façade” for buildings that captures solar energy, transmits light, provides enhanced insulation and is capable of changing its characteristics through sensor-based interaction with internal building climate controls. Principal investigator: Harry Giles, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan.

Winning projects in the biomedical technologies category:

  • Composite microfluidic nanophotonic sensors for rapid and sensitive detection of cancer biomarkers in blood. Goal: Prototype a low-cost, palm-size diagnostic instrument that can be used in hospitals or clinics to rapidly and sensitively detect multiple cancer biomarkers using only a finger-pricked blood sample. Principal investigators: Xudong Fan, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan; Tian Yang, U-M/SJTU Joint Institute.

  • Novel multifunctional endoscope-based medical devices for advanced diagnosis and treatment procedures. Goal: Develop an advanced endoscopic stitching device based on a super-elastic suture to enable endoscopic gastric bypass for obesity treatment and other procedures. Principal investigators: Albert J. Shih, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan; Kai Xu, U-M/SJTU Joint Institute.

  • Development of acoustic droplet vaporization for the enhancement of high-intensity focused ultrasound therapy. Goal: Use the Acoustic Droplet Vaporization (ADV) method to enhance the controlled heating of tissues during high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) treatments. ADV-enhanced HIFU promises breakthrough advances—including reduced treatment time, increased cost-effectiveness and improved protection of sensitive tissues—in the field of thermal ablation of tumors. Principal investigators: J. Brian Fowlkes, Department of Radiology and Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan; Aili Zhang, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Jingfeng Bai, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The goal of the initial five-year seed phase of the joint U-M/SJTU research programs is to identify projects that have commercialization potential and that are likely to attract follow-on research funding from the US and Chinese governments, as well as from industry. The renewable energy collaborations will take advantage of funding opportunities expected to be offered by both the US Department of Energy and the Chinese government.

In addition to the renewable energy and biomedical technologies research programs, the two universities will offer grants of up to $80,000 to organize and host collaborative symposia focusing on major topics in the areas of renewable energy and biomedical engineering.

The new research partnerships between U-M and SJTU build on years of collaboration between the two schools. In 2001, U-M became the first non-Chinese academic institution approved to offer graduate engineering degrees to students in China, at SJTU. In 2005, U-M and SJTU strengthened the partnership by forming a joint institute to manage and direct degree-granting programs offered by both universities to students from both nations.

In May 2010, U-M, in partnership with SJTU and several other US and Chinese universities and national laboratories, submitted a proposal to the Energy Department for a US-China Clean Energy Research Center for Clean Vehicles.

The proposal, which is under review, calls for a dramatic reduction in petroleum-based fuel consumption and vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions for both nations. The reductions would be accomplished through the synergy of optimized low-carbon energy carriers, including biofuels and electricity.