The Sibley School’s Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao Wins German Chancellor Fellowship

By: Erin Philipson

Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao, a doctoral student in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, was selected for the 2021 German Chancellor Fellowship. Cao, who is working with Professor David Erickson on carbon conversion, will continue his work in the field of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) throughout the fellowship.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s German Chancellor Fellowship Programme is targeted towards university graduates from Brazil, the People’s Republic of China, India, the Russian Federation, South Africa and the United States who have an international outlook and initial leadership experience. This fellowship programme is intended to give fellows the opportunity to spend a year in Germany exploring new solutions to the global issues of our times and widening their networks.

“The German Chancellor Fellowship provides an excellent opportunity for me to continue working on CCUS and other carbon-negative technologies to explore pathways for reaching the carbon neutrality goals,” says Cao.

Every year, more than 30 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions are produced, driving climate change. In nature, trees have a built-in system to convert water, light and CO2 into the food they use to grow via natural photosynthesis. While in the Sibley School, Cao built a scalable solar reactor called “HI-Light,” which mimics photosynthesis to convert CO2 emissions into fuels inside a factory or a power plant. 

The reactor design received the $20K Grand Prize in the “Create the Future” Design Contest in 2017, and was featured in the World Economic Forum’s white paper as an energy breakthrough of the past decade. 

In addition to his recent selection as a German Chancellor Fellow, Cao was a member of the Technical Working Group on Energy Transitions for the High-Level Dialogue on Energy by the United Nations, was named a Young Scientist by the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, and participated in Young Changemaker on Sustainable WASH Solutions in 2020, held by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Cao was also inducted to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in Energy by Forbes Magazine, among many other notable accomplishments.

As a first-generation student, Cao is active in promoting diversity and inclusion in academia. He recently published an opinion piece, Navigating My Way as a First-Generation Student, on Matter, a Cell Press Journal. He also wrote Flourishing as a Minority in Higher Education for Lindau Nobel Meetings. In 2019, Elvis was featured in an interview in My Journey from Poverty to College by the China Current.

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