With the support from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), Taiwan-Vietnam Environmental Protection Overseas Science and Technology Innovation Center (TVEPOC) was inaugurated in December 2020 at the National Yunlin University of Science and Technology (YunTech). TVEPOC aims to promote knowledge creation and application of environmental protection technology in Taiwan and Vietnam through personnel training and advanced research. Our main partner is Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City - University of Science (VNUHCM-US), which is an esteemed institution in natural and applied sciences.
Taiwan-Vietnam Partnership during the COVID-19 Lockdown
Based on an MoU signed in 2019, HCMUT and YunTech founded the TVEPOC. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, research teams from Taiwan and Vietnam held regular video conferences to share the latest research results and develop new research topics. When the pandemic got worse in Ho Chi Minh City, Taiwan sent face masks produced by YunTech to Vietnam, hoping that both Taiwan and Vietnam could overcome a challenging moment.
Figure 1: Video conference of the Taiwan-Vietnam research team on March 25, 2021
Throughout 2021, TVEPOC organized several courses and activities to foster bilateral exchange. To encourage diversified learning, Taiwanese and Vietnamese teachers shared topics of "Progressive Insect-based Biorefinery," "Ultrasound and its Applications in Environmental Technologies," "Microplastic Pollution," and "Photochemical Efficiency of Sunlight Photocatalysts." In July 2021, TVEPOC also held an online Renewable Energy and Environment Workshop, inviting Taiwanese and Vietnamese scholars and experts in renewable energy to share their research technologies and practical applications. In this workshop, Director Hui-Huang Hsu from the Science and Technology Division at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) introduced Taiwan's achievements in promoting scientific research cooperation in Vietnam and discussed opportunities for future partnerships. When the pandemic is over, we hope to meet our partners in Vietnam in person.
Figure 2: Online Renewable Energy and Environment Workshop on July 9, 2021
Diverse Perspectives of a Cross-discipline Research Team
When TVEPOC called for proposals in YunTech for the first time, we received ten research proposals in different fields of study that focused on environmental protection and sustainable development. For instance, we received a proposal from the Department of Electronic Engineering based on smart identification and deep learning to develop "Smart Environmental Protection," a proposal from the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering that aims to promote the application of insect biorefinery in industry and education for sustainable development, and a proposal from the Department of Mechanical Engineering that promotes the personnel training in solar and wind energy.
Among the research teams, Professor Yu-Shen Cheng from the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering focuses on the application of insect biorefinery and the reusing of organic waste to produce biological products and create business opportunities for the circular economy. During the research meetings, our Vietnamese partners were impressed by the potential of insect biorefinery and were interested in bilateral cooperation. In the future, teachers from HCMUT and YunTech will stay in touch and discuss related research and curriculum.
Figure 3: Prof. Yu-Shen Cheng and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Tam's class with Vietnamese students participating online on May 6, 2021
In addition, Professor Shi-Chang Tseng from the Department of Mechanical Engineering focuses on renewable energy such as solar, wind, and water energy. Recently, his team has focused on energy recycling in factories and creating a new system that generates wind power from exhaust fans. The team invited Vietnamese faculty and students to participate in international cooperation to promote the research and development of green energy.
Figure 4: Prof. Shi-Chang Tseng shared his research at the Renewable Energy and Environment Workshop on July 9, 2021
Research and Cross-cultural Exchange in the YunTech Lab
Despite the pandemic, we were fortunate to have Dr. Nguyen Thanh Tam from the Faculty of Environment in HCMUT join our lab, building a bridge between Taiwan and Vietnam. Dr. Nguyen Thanh Tam shared her research with us:
"People think waste is waste. We think waste is resource."
In May 2021, Dr. Nguyen went to YunTech for four-month research exchange. Two weeks after her arrival, Taiwan was put on Level 3 epidemic alert, so her life at YunTech was limited to the dormitory, the lab, and the office. Although Dr. Nguyen was disappointed that she couldn't travel around Taiwan during this time, her passion beamed through every word she said about her research and memories of her time in the lab.
Dr. Nguyen specializes in ultrasound as well as sewage and waste treatment. She has been conducting collaborative research in Taiwan such as "Biochar in Wastewater Treatment" with National Chi Nan University and "Reuse of Incinerator Fly Ash" with YunTech. Both are important and practical environmental research regarding Taiwan and Vietnam.
According to postdoctoral researcher Cheng-Kuo Tsai, with Dr. Nguyen's expertise in ultrasound, the research hopes to provide solutions in removing chloride ions from incinerator fly ash and produce high-value nano-materials. Subsequently, scientists can use the high-value material to treat fluoride-containing wastewater from the semiconductor industry, forming high-purity calcium fluoride, also known as fluorite. In steel mills, fluorite can be used as a flux, thus creating a circular economy.
Figure 5: Dr. Nguyen Thanh Tam and Dr. Cheng-Kuo Tsai in YunTech lab on July 16, 2021
In addition to research activities, Dr. Nguyen had many interesting cross-cultural experiences and interactions with the students and faculty in the lab. What impressed her most was a traditional snack called Kuai-Kuai placed on the lab equipment. Dr. Nguyen mentioned that people in Vietnam also pray to their gods, but the “Kuai-Kuai” culture was fascinating for her. The first time she visited the lab, she heard about the magical power of Kuai-Kuai. When the equipment malfunctioned during an experiment, a student picked up a Kuai-Kuai, wrote down the name of the equipment, and then put a bag of the snack on top of the machine. Later, the experiments went according to plan, and demonstrated the magic of the "Kuai-Kuai" culture in Taiwan.
Figure 6: Dr. Nguyen Thanh Tam with Kuai-Kuai in the lab on July 16, 2021
The Differences and Similarities between Taiwan and Vietnam
When it comes to the differences between Taiwan and Vietnam, Dr. Nguyen said she works as a lecturer at the Faculty of Environment in HCMUT. With more than 200 students in each grade as well as theory and laboratory classes in the curriculum, lecturers focus on teaching most of the time. However, because of less equipment and fewer laboratories at her university, everyone must send research samples to large testing centers, and students have less hands-on experience.
Therefore, Dr. Nguyen suggested that the joint program could provide more internship or exchange opportunities for students, which would be helpful for Vietnamese students to participate in complete experimental programs. In the environmental industry in Vietnam, companies value experience more than a degree, and gaining experience is important for both teachers and students. With an abundance of experience in international research, she feels fortunate to go to different countries, spend more time and energy on research, and learn about diverse cultures outside the laboratory.
When Dr. Nguyen shared her thoughts on the research culture in YunTech, she mentioned the importance of sufficient instruments and equipment. With the Center for Advanced Processing and Analysis in YunTech, it is convenient for researchers to analyze data without sending samples to other testing centers. In addition, Dr. Nguyen experienced the warm and friendly atmosphere in YunTech. When they lacked equipment, faculty members from other departments were all happy to help.
In the rainy season of early summer, the hot and humid days in Taiwan were just like those in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam. According to Dr. Nguyen, Ho Chi Minh is a bustling city, which is different from the places she lived in Taiwan, Puli and Douliu. However, Taiwan is like a home for her. She mentioned that the word for “Peace” in Vietnamese has a similar pronunciation to Mandarin. For Dr. Nguyen, “Peace” succinctly sums up her time spend here in Taiwan.
Linking Industry and Academia in Taiwan and Vietnam for Smart Environmental Protection
TVEPOC aims to combine the industrial and academic strengths of YunTech to create international industrial ties. Through exchange with HCMUT, we can strengthen academic cooperation and international personnel training. In the future, we hope to cooperate with Taiwanese companies in Vietnam to implement internship programs and academia-industry collaboration projects in Vietnam and Taiwan as well as promoting environmental protection in industry, academia, and the research sector in Taiwan and Vietnam.
Figure 7: During online meetings, Rector Hien from the Faculty of Environment in HCMUT, TVEPOC's partner in Vietnam, always greeted everyone with a smile. Together everyone discussed plans for Taiwan-Vietnam personnel training and research collaboration.
In the future, we hope to combine the research and instruction of YunTech with the environmental technology of HCMUT to establish "Smart Environmental Protection" in Taiwan and Vietnam. In the darkness of the pandemic, everyone is looking eagerly towards the bright hope of renewable resources and renewable energy.