Everyone can have limitless possibilities if tries hard

Assistant Professor Li Zhengmao is focusing on the planning & operation of Multi-energy Systems since the optimal coordination of multi-energy carriers such as power, heat, cooling, hydrogen, water, etc., will be highly promising for cost reduction and a zero carbon future.
Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains and if the shortcut to research, it also must be diligent, says Zhengmao Li. Photo: Aalto University/Jaakko Kahilaniemi
Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains and if the shortcut to research, it also must be diligent, says Zhengmao Li. Photo: Aalto University/Jaakko Kahilaniemi

Li Zhengmao, who started as an Assistant Professor in April 2023, will bring his expertise in the optimal planning and operation of multi-energy systems to the Aalto University Department of Electrical Engineering and Automation. Multi-energy systems in the form of microgrids, smart buildings, ships, etc., could be integrated with multi-energy carriers to enhance the overall energy utilization efficiency and operational flexibility. The close collaboration of researchers from multiple disciplines will be built for an economic and carbon-free future.

What are you researching and why?
I am researching the planning and operation of multi-energy systems to reduce energy supply costs and carbon emissions. The key research topics include but are not limited to 1) Planning and operation of multi-energy systems with integrated power, thermal, and hydrogen networks and storage; 2) Tackling uncertainties from renewable energies, temperature, gas prices, etc., by robust/stochastic optimization methods; 3) Resilience enhancement of energy systems with demand response scheme; 4) The development and application of the AI-based algorithms like deep reinforcement learning.

As an emerging diagram all over the world, multi-energy systems show limitless probabilities for enhancing the holistic energy utilization efficiency, saving abundant energy supplying cost, reducing carbon emission, etc. In addition, due to the depletion of fossil fuels, there is a wider and wider deployment of renewable energy and energy storage technologies in the current energy system for a more economical, flexible, and carbon-free future. Thus, it is meaningful and has great potential to conduct excellent research on this topic.

How did you become a researcher?
For me, the key reasons to become a researcher lie in the following three aspects:

1: Passion for research: Interest is always the best teacher. When I started to do research as a master's student around 22 years old, I get intrigued by my research area as well as the working mode that,  firstly, you read what others did in the literature and find out what is still needed to be solved, then, you discuss your ideas with other researchers around the world, and finally, you work out your idea with a paper accepted. The whole process is fantastic and gives me a sense of achievement that I can finish one thing by myself, it could be meaningful and contribute to the development of human society. 

2: Hard work: Hard work is definitely important not only for research but for everything. No one can be born to be an excellent researcher but the time and effort you paid will help you succeed. I still remember those hard times when I was a master's or Ph.D. student, I always failed to work out the ideas even though I tried really hard, but I never give up and spent more time on them. It turns out that your hard work will never betray you. You do have limitless potential. 

3: The lifestyle I want: My supervisors when I was a master, PhD, and postdoctoral researcher are all super nice to their students. They have a great passion for research that they will hold hot discussions with students like close friends on research ideas. When students meet research obstacles, they all encouraged us to persist and provided full support. What they did make me want to be a researcher like them to give power to other younger researchers or even change their life.

What have been some of the high points of your career?
From my career or research perspective, there can be several high points along the way, but the following two can be stated here.

For the first one, my first journal paper “Optimal coordinated energy dispatch of a multi-energy microgrid in grid-connected and islanded modes” was published in the Applied Energy Journal in 2018. It is among the very first paper which works on multi-energy systems with combined heat, cooling, and electricity flows. By coordinating the distributed generators, electricity, and thermal energy storage system as well as flexible loads, the flexibility of dispatching the multi-energy system is greatly enhanced with much lower energy supply cost. Now, it has 260 citations and gets the “highly cited paper” award from both the Applied Energy journal and the “Web of Science”. 

For the second one, my research on the multi-energy ship system is the very first touch and pioneering all over the world. Cruising ships such as those travel from Helsinki to Tallinn or from Stockholm to Helsinki are fast developing all over the world with huge multi-energy needs as there are clubs, dining halls, theaters, and so on. Besides, the main fuel for the ships is diesel, which is extremely harmful to the environment. Thus, I conducted some research on reducing the multi-energy supply cost and gas emissions of ship systems for a more economical and carbon-free future. One of my related research works “A Risk-Averse Adaptively Stochastic Optimization Method for Multi-Energy Ship Operation Under Diverse Uncertainties” is honored to be reported in the Innovation spotlight for the IEEE Xplore.

What are the characteristics that a researcher needs?
Apart from those basic characteristics like never performing any kind of academic misconduct, and having general research interests, the following three characteristics should also be needed:

1: Hard work: As the saying goes, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard”. Doing research is not an easy task, you should really put your heart into it.

2: Self-motivated: even if you do not have a strong interest or talent in your research, if you never want to fall behind others, or if you always want to be the best in your career, you will make good research. 

3: Active in research discussions and collaborations: Research should never be conducted behind closed doors. You shall be active in discussing with your supervisors, and other researchers for discussions to keep yourself updated in your area. In addition, positive collaborations are always preferred but never destructive competition.  

What are your expectations (in the field) for the future?
My major expectation for the future in my research field is that all multiple energy carriers i.e., electricity, heat, cooling, water, hydrogen, etc., will be coordinated on the system level including microgrids, ships, buildings, etc. In this way, the holistic energy supply cost and gas emissions will be sharply reduced for both economic and carbon-free energy society. 

This future can be promising as there are an increasing number of excellent researchers working in this area all over the world. I am honored to be one of them and will spare all effort to make my contribution to this field.

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