Explore the Nano World 

Lifetime prediction of non-woven face masks in ocean and contributions to microplastics and dissolved organic carbon

Jan. 2023: Decoupling Electron- and Phase-Transfer Processes to Enhance Electrochemical Nitrate-to-Ammonia Conversion by Blending Hydrophobic PTFE Nanoparticles within the Electrocatalyst Layer 

Dec. 2022: Dr. Zhang group received NJIT’s 2022 Technology Innovation Translation and Acceleration (TITA) Program Funding ($75,000) for developing high-efficient inactivation of airborne viruses using a microwave-enabled air filtration system

 Wen's Research Group​


With the global spread of COVID-19 in early 2020, the public use for personal protective equipment (e.g., disposable face masks) has increased substantially. Such an unprecedented consumption of masks may also exacerbate marine plastic pollution. Thus, this study explored the degradation behavior of three types of disposable face masks in simulated seawater via the accelerated aging experiments. Microplastics (MPs) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) were monitored in UV- and thermal-treated mask suspensions and their concentrations increased slowly in the early stage at 50 ℃ and 58 ℃. Owing to the high energy supply, the release rates of MPs and DOC at 76 ℃ were much faster than the above two temperatures. The time-temperature superposition principle (TTSP) was used to superpose the MPs/DOC release kinetics from other tested temperatures to the reference temperature and its applicability was verified by the similar activation energy. Then, a release kinetics model was established and fitted well with the superposed MP data (R2 ≥ 0.96). Since less than 0.1% of carbon was leached, the superposed DOC data was roughly modelled by the exponential function (R2 ≥ 0.90). According to the TTSP and the established kinetics models, about 15 years were estimated to decompose half of a certain marine mask waste, together with leaching 0.21 ± 0.02 mg∙g-mask-1 of DOC. If mask consumption remains the same before 2025, they would contribute 40000-230000 tonnes of MPs and 13-97 tonnes of DOC to the ocean by 2040.


Wen Zhang

Principal Investigator
Associate Professor

Phone: (973) 596-5520 
Fax: (973) 596-5790
Email: wen.zhang@njit.edu

Office Location: Colton Hall 211

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