Principal Investigator:

Tian Li.jpg
Tian Li

Assistant Professor

Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University



1034 Ray W. Herrick Laboratories,

177 S Russell St, West Lafayette, IN 47907

Water-Energy Nexus

Naturally nanostructured materials

Exiting the fossil fuel era towards a sustainable future will require the identification of high-performing sustainable materials. Naturally-occurring, versatile materials are key enablers for carbon-neutral solutions. Cellulose is the most abundant biopolymer on earth, featuring a hierarchical arrangement. The cellulose fibers can be broken down into building blocks of various dimensions, offering immense opportunities with diverse length scale.


Selected Publications:

Developing fibrillated cellulose as a sustainable technological material

​Tian Li, Chaoji Chen, Alexandra H. Brozena, J.Y. Zhu, Lixian Xu, Carlos Driemeier, Jiaqi Dai, Orlando J. Rojas, Akira Isogai, Lars Wågberg, Liangbing Hu. Nature 590, 47-56 (2021)

Sustainable Built


Selected Publications:

A Radiative Cooling Structural Material
Tian Li, Y. Zhai, S. He, W. Gan, Z. Wei, M. Heidarinejad, D. Dalgo, R. Mi, X. Zhao, J. Song, J. Dai, C. Chen, A. Aili, A. Vellore, A. Martini, R. Yang, X. Yin, L. Hu. Science 364, 6442, (2019)

Wood Composite as an Energy Efficient Building Material: Guided Sunlight Transmittance and Effective Thermal Insulation
Tian Li, M. Zhu, Z. Yang, J. Song, J. Dai, Y. Yao, W. Luo, G. Pastel, B. Yang, L. Hu. Advanced Energy Materials (2016).  Highlighted "Building materials: Transparent wood." Nature Energy 1 (2016)

Anisotropic, Lightweight, Strong, and Super Thermally Insulating Nanowood with Naturally Aligned Nanocellulose

Tian Li, J. Song, X. Zhao, Z. Yang, G. Pastel, S. Xu, C. Jia, J. Dai, C. Chen, A. Gong, F. Jiang, Y. Yao, T. Fan, B. Yang, L. Wågberg, R. Yang, L. Hu. Science Advances 4, 3 (2018)

Buildings consume ~40% of the total energy in US. The disruptive technologies for energy efficient buildings need to be aided by advances in material design. Energy efficient building materials can largely cut down energy usage in buildings and facilitate a paradigm shift in building design. In addition, most building materials not only have a high embodied carbon footprint, but also store no or minimal amounts of carbon. We aim to establish the fundamental knowledge needed to utilize carbon negative materials in buildings.

Energy Water Nexus


Trees are natural energy-water systems. The wood trunk is composed of numerous aligned fibers along the wood growth direction that are responsible for water and ion transport from root to leaves. We aim to establish the knowledge base of cellulose-water-energy interactions towards transformative discoveries.

Selected Publications:​

Atmospheric Water Harvesting via Radiative Cooling Fabric

Y. Zhang, W. Zhu, C. Zhang, J. Peoples, X. Li, A. Felicelli, X. Shan, D. Warsinger, T. Borca-Tasciuc, X. Ruan, T. Li, Nano Letters, 2022. 22, 7, 2618-2626 

Radiative Cooled Sorbent for High Performance All Weather Ambient Water Harvesting

W. Zhu, C. Zhang, Y. Zhang, X. Shan, A. Rao, S. Pitts, T. Woodbury, D. Derome, D. Warsinger, L. Mauer, X. Ruan, J. Carmeliet, T. Li, Under revision.

Scalable and Highly Efficient Mesoporous Wood‐Based Solar Steam Generation Device: Localized Heat, Rapid Water Transport
Tian Li, H. Liu, X. Zhao, G. Chen, J. Dai, G. Pastel, C. Jia, C. Chen, E. Hitz, D. Siddhartha, R. Yang, L. Hu, Advanced Functional Materials (2018)

Biomedical and Wearable Devices


Cellulose are natural materials for wear. Our aim in this direction is to establish ‘smart’ functionalized natural fibers as highly tunable biomedical devices and as vast numbers of networked sensors.

Selected Publications:

Cellulose Ionic Conductors with High Differential Thermal Voltage for Low-Grade Heat Harvesting

Tian Li, X. Zhang, S. Lacey, R. Mi, X. Zhao, S. Das, R. Yang, L. Hu, Nature Materials 18, 6 (2019). Highlighted “Energy harvesters pick up power” Nature index vol 576 (2019)

A Nanofluidic Ion Regulation Membrane with Aligned Cellulose Nanofibers

Tian Li, X. Li, W. Kong, C. Chen, E. Hitz, C. Jia, J. Dai, X. Zhang, R. Briber, Z. Siwy, M. Reed, L. Hu. Science Advances 5, 2, 4238 (2019)

Transparent, Anisotropic Biofilm with Aligned Bacterial Cellulose Nanofibers

S. Wang, Tian Li, C. Chao, W. Kong, S. Zhu, J. Dai, A. Diaz, E. Hitz, S. Solares, T. Li, L. Hu,  Advanced Functional Materials 28, 24 (2018)