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From Ghana to China, A young Researcher’s Quest for Greener World


Jeffrey Dankwa Ampah, from the Republic of Ghana, is currently a doctoral candidate majoring in Power Machinery and Engineering at Tianjin University in Tianjin, the northern port city of China. This past winter vacation, he chose to stay on campus and work on his research and thesis. In fact, ever since he came to study for his master's degree at TJU in 2019, he has spent most of his vacations studying on campus. For him, the experience of studying in China is one of the life-changing events, and there is not a single day to waste.

Good things come to those who work hard and persevere. Throughout his academic journey at TJU, from the master's program to his current ongoing doctoral pursuit, Jeffrey has published nearly 50 high-level academic papers in the field of renewable energy and climate change, 13 of which he is either the first author or co-first author. His works have been cited more than 1,000 times on Google Scholar, showcasing his influence and impact within the academic community.

Jeffrey ith Prof. Liu Haifeng

Prof. Liu Haifeng from Tianjin University's School of Mechanical Engineering, who is mentoring Jeffrey for his doctoral studies, thinks highly of the young man. "Jeffrey is a talented and dedicated researcher. He has demonstrated extraordinary innovative thinking ability and commitment to work and research."

Looking back, Jeffrey traces the origin of his life aspiration to a childhood wish that has lingered in his mind for years.

A childhood wish evolves into a lifelong aspiration.

When he was in primary school, young Jeffrey was much irritated by the frequent power outages in his house and at school. "Back then in my country, electricity was expensive and unstable. At one of those blackout moments, as a young inquisitive kid, I looked up at the blazing sun and wondered when my country would start generating electricity from the sun as the western world were already doing since it is free, clean, and inexhaustible."

This burgeoning thought later evolved into a big dream as he chose to become a renewable energy engineer when he entered the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) in Ghana for his bachelor's study.

"UENR is a publicly funded national institution seeking excellence in energy and natural resource sciences. That's where my quest for cleaner energy to benefit the world began," Jeffrey recalled.

In 2019, two years after he finished his undergraduate studies and served as a teaching assistant at UENR, he decided to further his study in renewable energy abroad and chose China as his destination.

"I have long noticed that as a major economic superhouse, China has made remarkable advancements in the development of renewable energy sources," Jeffrey noted that between 2005 and 2010, China constructed 39% of the world's new renewable energy capacity. "It has showcased a major country's commitment to combating climate change and transitioning towards a more sustainable future." He was thrilled with the prospect of meeting like-minded people in Chinese universities.

Jeffrey with his mother during the graduation ceremony in UENR

What made the choice to study in China even more appealing was when he found out that he might get sponsored by a full scholarship if he applied to a Chinese university due to the Belt and Road Initiative. "As far as I know, a number of Ghanaian students have been awarded scholarships through the Belt and Road initiative to study various courses in China. I think it really helps cultivate the talents needed for Ghana's development."

Jeffrey shared his experience of finding an ideal university to apply for. Putting together school rankings, recommendations from friends, major preferences, and campus environment, he ultimately chose Tianjin University.

"TJU is one of the most prestigious Chinese universities and well-known for being the first modern university in China. And the campus environment is amazing. The pictures I saw on the university homepage captured my heart immediately."

The first thing Jeffrey did upon arriving on the campus was to take a picture in front of the university library, which he had longed to see for a while since he saw it on the homepage.

A dedicated researcher strives to build a cleaner and sustainable world.

Associate Professor Jin Chao took Jeffrey into her research group during his master's program. In her eyes, he is a very dedicated researcher, fully committed to work and study. "Jeffrey amazed me with his exceptional patience and resilience, qualities that are seldom seen at his age. I think that's what makes him a productive and successful researcher."

Jeffrey with his Jin Chao who mentored his graduate studies

For his master's program, Jeffrey's research primarily focused on the development and optimization of biofuels, particularly low-carbon alcohols for environmentally friendly use in marine engines. He published four high-level research papers as either the first or corresponding author, including two consecutive papers in the top journals such as Journal of Cleaner Production and Fuel through the collaboration with Professor Liu Haifeng from the Department of Energy at the School of Mechanical Engineering, who later became his mentor for doctoral studies.

Jeffrey's work on clean and low-carbon alternative fuels for marine use has attracted significant international attention. International Maritime Organization (IMO) technical officials and library directors once emailed to request full texts of his publications. Professor Krzysztof Wróbel from the Maritime University of Gdynia in Poland praised his report on low-carbonization of ship propulsion fuels, expressing a desire for joint study on low-carbon marine fuels in the future.

However, Jeffrey owes his academic success to the excellent environment the university provides. "My tutors are both very responsible and inspiring. They provide insightful guidance to my research." He also admitted that the personal traits he observed in most of his lab peers have significantly influenced his work ethic and approaches.

"I firmly believe that China's remarkable growth as a nation is fundamentally rooted in attributes such as discipline, commitment, patriotism, hard work, and humility that are easy to find in most of my lab friends." He was convinced that these very traits can contribute to one's development as a more effective researcher and scientist.

Jeffrey's doctoral research is about utilizing comprehensive integrated assessment models to devise novel pathways and policies for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. "Put simply, the world faces substantial challenges in reducing emissions in 'hard-to-abate' sectors like shipping, aviation, and agriculture. We have to find promising solutions for the decarbonization of these sectors."

In his latest paper, Jeffrey under the guidance of his supervisors, Professor Haifeng Liu and Associate Professor Jin Chao proposed a global warming mitigation pathway that harnesses the potential of carbon dioxide removal technologies while minimizing its negative impacts on the global energy-land-water system. "This approach is essential for achieving our climate goals while ensuring the continued health and sustainability of our planet." The paper was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and selected as the Cover article.

A faithful man seeks ways to give back to his homeland through academic research.

He never forgets his initial intention and pays close attention to the development of his homeland. After completing his MSc studies and while awaiting the start of his doctoral program, Jeffrey undertook research focused on modeling hybrid energy systems for decarbonization efforts in both Ghana and China. He realized that while much of the world has made substantial progress in adopting electric vehicles (EVs), Ghana, like many other Sub-Saharan countries, has faced challenges in this regard.

"Again, it is because of the lack of universal access to electricity in the country. The increased demand for electric vehicles would strain Ghana's electrical grid. Fortunately, my country possesses abundant renewable energy resources, particularly solar energy."

He designed a hybrid energy system incorporating wind, solar, and biomass sources to serve as energy sources for electric vehicle charging stations in the country. "This approach was supposed to alleviate pressure on Ghana's electrical grid and significantly reduce emissions from the transportation sector."

Additionally, Jeffrey conducted an estimation of the employment potential associated with the large-scale deployment of such systems in the country, hoping it could contribute to addressing unemployment issues to some extent. It is Jeffrey's ultimate dream that Ghana can take advantage of her renewable energy potential to enable 100% universal electricity access in the country, and a zero-carbon emissions electricity sector at the earliest opportunity to facilitate deep decarbonization in other sectors of the economy as well. "I believe Ghana can set the pace for other sub-Saharan African countries to follow as we collectively fight towards the realization of the Paris Agreement."

Jeffrey’s ultimate plan is to have a long-term career in academia, specifically as a professor in a prestigious university. He plans to seek a postdoctoral research position after the completion of his doctoral studies.

“Only time will reveal the exact path I will take. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that regardless of the path I choose, my connection to Tianjin University will remain strong, primarily through my future endeavors in research and teaching.”

By Eva Yin