Meeting the Challenges of Alternative Energy

Sustainable energy and mobility for the 21st century

One of the grand challenges facing humanity today is the development of an alternative energy system that is safe, clean, and sustainable. Such a system is no longer reliant upon fossil fuels. Dr. Yushan Yan, Distinguished Engineering Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Associate Dean for Research and Entrepreneurship in Engineering at the University of Delaware, is developing what he has coined a distributed renewable electrochemical energy and mobility system (DREEMS) to meet the challenge of alternative energy. DREEMS presents an energy solution that is efficient, affordable, and resilient. Therefore, this research could lead to affordable, zero-emission fuel cell cars and enable the widespread deployment of the renewable solar and wind energy.

At the foundation of this new energy system are a number of electrochemical devices including fuel cells, electrolyzers, and flow batteries. For all these devices, polymer electrolytes and electrocatalysis play a critical role in controlling their performance and cost, and thus their commercial viability. Dr. Yan and his team have developed the most stable polymer hydroxide exchange membranes and the most active non-precious metal hydrogen oxidation reaction catalysts. Additionally, they have a new redox flow battery concept that allows for unprecedented high voltage, producing high power and energy at low costs. His team of about 20 researchers including students, postdocs, and professional scientists collaborate with individuals from industry, national labs, and other academic institutions, bringing varying expertise to important research questions. Therefore, through multidisciplinary collaboration and innovative technologies, Dr. Yan is at the forefront of tomorrow’s energy solutions.

Current research includes:

  • Fuel Cell Engine Project: Zero-emission fuel cells are a promising solution for powering cars, homes, and devices; however, they have not commercially been used because of their high cost. Dr. Yan’s platinum-free fuel cell engine project can produce a 1 kW prototype within 2-3 years depending on the resources available.

  • Redox Flow Battery Project: Dr. Yan’s flow battery project can produce 1 kW prototype within 2-3 years depending on the resources available. Dr. Yan’s novel flow battery technology is designed and assembled to store solar and wind electricity.

  • This profile is spotlighted in the Clean Energy Impact Fund.


Dr. Yushan Yan did not have electricity until he was seven years old. Growing up in China, he lived in a small village where candles and kerosene lit not only his dinner tables but also his reading posts before bed and through conversations after sunset. In fact, he remembers when the 15 watt light bulb became a staple in his home, and it was “brighter than anything [he] had ever seen.”

His curiosity about the world and experiences with the strong impact electricity had on his own life inspired him to continue to pursue a degree in the sciences. As a graduate student, he was trained to do materials synthesis and thought that he wanted to work for a large company for a couple of years and then return to academia. As he began to dive into research, he felt that he needed to attack a new problem and believed energy would be a problem that could keep him captivated for years to come. With the realization that without energy, humanity would be in “real trouble,” Dr. Yan began to research topics of sustainable energy. He now believes sustainable energy is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity, and is therefore motivated to change the world by solving energy problems.

In his free time, aside from research, Dr. Yan enjoys taking walks nearly everyday. He feels that the solitude of a quiet walk is an important way to recharge for a day in his lab.



Presidential Chair, University of California, 2010

Donald Breck Award, International Zeolite Association, 2010

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2008

Changjiang Professor, Zhejiang University, China, 2007

University Scholar, University of California Riverside 2006