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Became a professor at Dongguk-Univ. and work on popularization of clean hydrogen car

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A Conversation with Alumni

Became a professor at Dongguk-Univ.
and work on popularization of clean hydrogen car

Asad Mehmood (KIST School, graduated in 2014)

The recent news of a Korean auto maker mass-producing the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell car is generating great hype in the automotive community. The model, revealed at CES earlier this year, runs on hydrogen rather than gasoline or diesel. It is a true environmentally friendly car that emits clean water instead of exhaust gas. However, the biggest obstacle to its popularization is its high price. A UST alumnus, Professor Asad Mehmood, is making significant contributions to international efforts to resolve the cost issue.

“I’m developing a catalyst to replace expensive platinum”

Hydrogen fuel cells are a next-generation energy source that can resolve the global energy crisis as well as atmospheric pollution. It uses the principle of electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. As it generates electricity with hydrogen and oxygen, it does not require a separate generator, and its generation efficiency is significantly greater than solar or wind power generation. Also, hydrogen is not consumed in the process, so it is rising as a powerful alternative to fossil fuel and nuclear power generation.

Professor Mehmood had great interest in clean energy even when he was a student at UST-KIST School. After studying in Korea for 10 years, he completed his postdoctoral degree and became a professor in Convergence Energy and New Material Engineering last year, and has been engaged in research to find a new catalyst, which is a critical component in fuel cells. Without a catalyst, the oxidation-reduction reaction that converts hydrogen and oxygen into water does not occur, which results in the failure to produce electricity.

The cause of the high price of hydrogen fuel cell cars is this catalyst. A catalyst induces chemical reactions, but remains as is before and after the reaction. Platinum, an expensive precious metal, is used for the catalyst. While new technologies that reduce the amount of platinum used have lowered costs, they are not a fundamental solution. If the platinum catalyst can be replaced with a more affordable metal such as iron or cobalt, the popularization of environmentally friendly fuel cells will accelerate.

The hydrogen fuel cell cars that will be put on sale in Korea in the first half of 2018 use a platinum catalyst. Professor Mehmood is currently developing affordable catalysts that can replace platinum with a Korean automaker. This was enabled by the achievements he made since he was a student at UST-KIST School under the guidance of an international authority in the fuel cell field, Professor Ha Heung-yong. Also, his joint research articles with the Max Plank Institute in Germany have been published in renowned academic journals such as Materials Horizon and Advanced Energy Materials.

An “excellent research environment” is the reason for the rush in Korea

There are many foreign researchers at universities and research institutes in Korea. In particular, young scientists from Asia and Africa choose Korea as their academic destination. Professor Mehmood said that the reason why Korea is rising as an academic destination for overseas talent is “because of the excellent research environment and facilities.” In other words, the technological level is high and an atmosphere that promotes research has been established.

Professor Mehmood studied chemistry at Quaid-i-Azam University and began to study abroad in Korea at Hallym University. After receiving his master’s degree he was introduced to UST by a senior foreign student and entered its doctoral program. This was mainly because UST is well-known among foreign students for its outstanding research level and facilities.

“When I first came to Korea in 2008, I did not know about UST. Specifically, I did not know much about the unique structure of the University of Science and Technology (UST), which is different from regular universities and research institutes. But Pakistani professors and senior students who regard their study abroad in Korea very highly, recommended UST in particular, so I started to look into it.”

Professor Mehmood will never forget
his first impression of UST-KIST School
on the day he visited for his interview.

He expected an authoritative atmosphere due to the global research talent or an exclusive atmosphere discriminating against foreign students, but his expectations were wrong. The professors who interviewed him paid great attention to his academic objectives and his dreams, even though he was still a student. Professor Mehmood said that the professors reminded him of his parents, who have been giving him positive energy in his life.

“UST was the Catalyst” for the Pakistani scientist to fulfill his dreams

“Many parents in Islamic families want their children to be religious and submissive. But my parents, who were both teachers, never once forced me to do anything. They always supported me with the words, ‘you make your own decisions for your life.’ The professors of UST, who listened to what I wanted to say with respect, reminded me of my parents, and I gained great confidence from them.”

It is known to be extremely difficult to become a professor in Korea. Did Professor Mehmood have any difficulties becoming one as a foreigner after graduating from UST? He said that his studies at UST helped him a lot to be able to continue his research in Korea.

The academic field is a competitive and dynamically changing field in any country in the world.
So, it is necessary to continuously stimulate oneself with the best talent in the best environment. This is the reason why I recommend to many Pakistani students who want to study in Korea to apply for UST, even if they fail multiple times. This is because the experience at UST provides a good opportunity that allows you to be recognized as an independent researcher in Korea, as well as on the international stage. It also offers a motivation to achieve more as a person, so it is an undeniable advantage for those who wish to follow the path of a scientist.

Professor Mehmood, who was born and raised in a family of educators, said that he believed “what I can do best is to study or do research.” His wife is studying medicine in Korea. He smiles as he describes his family. “The conversations at school as well as at home are always about science,” he said. But Professor Mehmood, who had been dreaming of becoming a scientist since he was a child, exudes happiness and confidence.

The talkative and ever-curious child from a rural area in Pakistan has grown into a proud university professor contributing to developing clean energy, the dream of mankind. The fact that Korea and UST have been acting as a catalyst for his dream, as pure as hydrogen, becoming the energy he seeks today, is a discovery that makes us feel prouder on a blooming spring day.