Celebrating Chinese research in engineering

Science and technology are booming in China and Chinese research increasingly leads in terms of output globally. This research is contributing to global challenges, from water security to medical technology, boosted by international collaboration. Here we present a special article collection highlighting some of the research being done in various fields of engineering.

Water security

China has been the top country in terms of publications related to water research for the past five years, according to an analysis conducted by Elsevier. This is perhaps not surprising, since the country faces many challenges related to water, including shortage and pollution, and the research being done in China will help address such challenges globally.

One approach to ensuring water security is the desalination of seawater. A study conducted at the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences and published in Desalination analyzes the impact of the approach on the Chinese economy to support decisions on seawater desalination. The results show that investing in desalination would have a positive impact on the economy – with an investment multiplier of 2.49. placing it ninth out of 18 industries.

Chinese researchers are also working on ways to improve desalination technology. Nanofiltration is a technique used in desalination and wastewater treatment to purify the water. Researchers at Zhejiang University, Zhejiang University of Technology and the Collaborative Innovation Center of Membrane Separation and Water Treatment of Zhejiang Province presented a novel membrane for nanofiltration in Journal of Membrane Science. The membrane, made up of a carbon nanotube interlayer, greatly improves the water permeate flux at low pressure without decreasing salt rejection.

Environmental protection

Other challenges are equally global, such as environmental contamination with hazardous materials. Researchers at Tsinghua University, in collaboration with The Pennsylvania State University, have developed an approach to improve the performance of semiconductor photocatalysis – a promising technology to solve many different environmental problems. The technology is currently limited as it can only degrade organic pollutants using a small spectrum of UV light, which equates to only 7% of the sunlight spectrum. The researchers have developed a simple method, published in Applied Catalysis B, Environmental, to synthesize zinc oxide nanosheets that increases the surface area of the photocatalyst and improves its performance using a broader spectrum of light.

Extracting shale gas for energy is one way to address the global energy challenge, but the method used – fracking – has been criticized widely for its environmental impact, partly because of the water used to extract the methane. A study in Extreme Mechanics Letters by Institute of Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences reveals that water is actually less efficient at extracting methane than carbon dioxide and nitrogen. This suggests that using one of these gases would be more effective and potentially less environmentally damaging.

Medical engineering

With an increasing global population, medical research and technology is more important than ever. Today more than 60 million people suffer from glaucoma – the most common cause of irreversible blindness – and that is expected to increase to 80 million by 2020. Understanding the condition is key to tackling it. The difference between the intraocular pressure and the intracranial pressure is involved but previously little was known about how the two are related. Researchers at Institute of Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences studied this relationship. Their research, published in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics Letters, provides a new model for the relationship that fits more closely with experimental data.

As well as improving our understanding of disease, engineering provides new materials for medical devices. Ceramic materials are used for hip and knee replacements but they often squeak uncomfortably, they are brittle and there is a risk of fracture. A protective film made of diamond-like carbon that can help avoid these problems. In collaboration with Australian, Canadian and Malaysian scientists, researchers at Tianjin University of Technology in China have analyzed the film, showing in their Biotribology paper that the coating provides good wear resistance and reduces friction, potentially making it suitable for use in joint replacements.

You can read about this and more in our collection of articles celebrating Chinese research, free to access until the end of May 2017.

Special article collection: China

Defect-rich ZnO nanosheets of high surface area as an efficient visible-light photocatalyst
Applied Catalysis B, Environmental
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926337316302223

Tribological behavior of hydrogenated diamond-like carbon on polished alumina substrate with chromium interlayer for biomedical application
Biotribology
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352573816300324

Economic effects analysis of seawater desalination in China with input–output technology
Desalination
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0011916415301120

Which is the most efficient candidate for the recovery of confined methane: Water, carbon dioxide or nitrogen? – open access
Extreme Mechanics Letters
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352431616301079

Nickel catalyst stabilization via graphene encapsulation for enhanced methanation reaction
Journal of Catalysis
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021951715003255

Speciation change and redistribution of arsenic in soil under anaerobic microbial activities
Journal of Hazardous Materials
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389415300856

Thin film composite membranes combining carbon nanotube intermediate layer and microfiltration support for high nanofiltration performances
Journal of Membrane Science
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376738816305014

A novel strategy for arsenic removal from dirty acid wastewater via CaCO3-Ca(OH)2-Fe(III) processing
Journal of Water Process Engineering
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214714416302380

Ionic liquid-mediated microwave-assisted simultaneous extraction and distillation of gallic acid, ellagic acid and essential oil from the leaves of Eucalyptus camaldulensis
Separation and Purification Technology
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1383586616303409

Analysing monthly sectorial water use and its influence on salt intrusion induced water shortage in urbanized deltas
Sustainable Cities and Society
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210670716301329

A modified relation between the intraocular and intracranial pressures – open access
Theoretical and Applied Mechanics Letters
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095034916300010

“Critical particle size” and ballast gradation studied by Discrete Element Modeling
Transportation Geotechnics
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214391216000040