Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao, Ph.D.

Activate Fellow '23 & Schmidt Science Fellow '22 

Forbes 30 Under 30 - North America 

Forbes | SSF | CAS | Activate | MIT MCSC | Lindau Nobel Meetings  | ORCID | UNEP | UNICEF | WEF


Academic Curriculum Vitae | Business Résumé | LinkedIn

I am currently a Senior Consultant for Carbon Dioxide Removal at DNV. I am also a Senior Schmidt Science Fellow (SSF) (2022 cohort, 1 of 29 globally), a lifelong fellowship by Schmidt Sciences in partnership with the Rhodes Trust. Mentored by SSF Academic Council’s Founding Chair, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, I pursued my independent research vision of integrated carbon capture and utilization at the nexus of technology, business, and policy at MIT and built independent collaboration with researchers across three continents. In 2023, I was named an Activate Fellow (2023 cohort, 1 of 46 nationally) to upscale direct air capture (DAC) and downstream utilization, recently winning an advanced market agreement (AMC) from Frontier Climate, and the MIT Climate & Energy Prize, among others. In 2021-2022, I served as an Inaugural Impact Fellow (2021 cohort, 1 of 8 globally) at the MIT Climate & Sustainability Consortium, transcending academia and industry by working with Fortune 500 companies on climate-related challenges. Prior to joining MIT, I received my MS and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University in 2019 and 2021, respectively. I received my MEng (thesis) degree in Materials Engineering from McGill University in 2016. In 2013, I received my dual bachelor's degrees (BEng in Renewable Energy, BA in English Literature) from the ‘Hsue-Shen Tsien’ Elite Class (Top 1%) of Xi'an Jiaotong University.

During my Ph.D. research at Cornell, I worked under the guidance of Professor David Erickson, focusing on optofluidics. I secured $750K USD in grant funding as the PI/Co-PI from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the Carbontech Development Initiative by NYSERDA, among others. I have been named an Activate Fellow, an MIT Climate & Sustainability Consortium Impact Fellow, a Carbon Removal Justice Fellow, and a German Chancellor Fellow by the Humboldt Foundation. I have received Forbes 30 Under 30 in Energy for North America, World Energy Council's Future Energy Leader (FEL-100), Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings Young Scientist, CAS Future Leader, ME Rising Stars by UC Berkeley, and MSE Rising Stars by CMU, Stanford, and MIT. Besides research, I was inducted into the Edward A. Bouchet Honor Society for my effort in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. One of the highlights of my background is that I mentored an undergraduate team that won the Bill Nye '77 Award in Undergrad Research

Major Highlights

05/17/2024: Article on "solar-driven interfacial desalination" published by Device (Cell Press)!

04/19/2024: Article on "a fibrous membrane air filter" published by Device (Cell Press)!

03/25/2024: Selected for the CAS Future Leaders program (1 of 35 globally)!

03/06/2024: Article on "mobile direct air capture" published by Matter (Cell Press)!

01/03/2024: Article on climate education published by Matter (Cell Press)!

07/27/2023: Article on how my background impacted my professional life published by Science!

06/26/2023: Selected as a Carbon Removal Justice Fellow by the American University and the NWF!

06/08/2023: Selected into the Activate Fellows Program (1 of 46 nationally)!

01/13/2023: Article on normalizing failure published by Nature Reviews Chemistry!

06/09/2022: Selected as one of the Schmidt Science Fellows (1 of 29 globally)! 

04/27/2022: Article on mental health challenges published by Nature Reviews Materials!

03/10/2022: Work on malaria/typhoid differentiation featured as a Science Highlight by NIBIB!

11/01/2021: Article titled "Impacting climate as a young innovator" published by UN DESA!

11/13/2018: Selected into Forbes 30 Under 30 in Energy – Class of 2019 (1 of 30 in North America)!

About me

About my science