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Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao

Schmidt Science Fellow, MIT

Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao is currently a Schmidt Science Fellow at MIT. Elvis received his Ph.D. degree from the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University in 2021. His Ph.D. research focused on microscopic precision in the simultaneous delivery of light and fluids by optofluidics, with advances relevant to health and sustainability applications.

For his Ph.D. work on a scalable optofluidic solar reactor for converting CO2 emissions into fuels, Elvis landed on Forbes 30 under 30 in Energy for North America (2019). The commercial partner was named a finalist in the $20M Carbon XPRIZE (1 of 10 globally) (2016-2021), and the Best CO2 Utilisation Award (1 of 6 globally) (2021). Besides research and entrepreneurship, Elvis co-authored a global energy transition roadmap as a UN Technical Working Group Member (2021), and contributed to the UN DESA Global Policy Dialogues (2021). He was invited to speak at the 70th Lindau Nobel Meeting on upscaling artificial photosynthesis (2021), a Table Talk on Climate Actions with BP’s CEO (2021), and the INK Conference in Jaisalmer, India on solar fuels (2019). Elvis was also featured as a young innovator impacting climate by the UN DESA for his efforts in founding C2X, an initiative to re-imagine our carbon liability as an economic opportunity.

Elvis actively promoted the success of first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students through his artwork, writing, outreach (e.g., article on Nature Reviews Materials, cover on Analytical Chemistry, interview by the China Current, service at Forbes Under 30 Mentorship Circle), and was inducted to the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society (2022).

For his leadership in the energy sector, Elvis was named a Youth Innovation Challenge Winner (1 in the US) by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (2021), a German Chancellor Fellow by the Humboldt Foundation (2021), a Future Energy Leader by the World Energy Council (2021), a Young Changemaker on Sustainable WASH Solutions by UNICEF (2020), and a Young Champions of the Earth Finalist for North America by UNEP (2020, 2019), among others.

Elvis was recently selected as a Schmidt Science Fellow (2022), and he plans to work with T. Alan Hatton (MIT) on carbon capture, and Ted Sargent (Northwestern) on carbon utilization. Elvis is passionate about integrated carbon capture and utilization (CCU) from molecular to process levels, machine learning to inspire smart CCU, and the nexus of technology, business, and policy for CCU. His vision is that by integrating carbon capture and utilization from molecular to process levels, we can unlock economic opportunities while mitigating global climate change.

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