Explore the Nano World 

 Wen's Research Group​

Wen Zhang, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE

Principal Investigator

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

Office Location: Colton Hall 211

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The NJIT’s Technology Innovation Translation and Acceleration (TITA) Seed Grant program will enable faculty and students to successfully accelerate the translation of their innovation to enterprise development and business incubation. The TITA seed grant program will foster entrepreneurial pathways from research and innovation to business and value creation with the acquisition of intellectual property, market validation, and engagement of stakeholders towards commercialization. The TITA Seed Grants will increase awareness of the potential commercial benefits at earlier stages of the translation and market validation process and allow researchers and stakeholders to collaborate for entrepreneurial success. It will also help faculty to submit competitive translational research proposals to external grant funding opportunities. The TITA program that was initiated in Fall 2022 with the NJ State and institutional funding is now supported by the Accelerating Translational Research (ART) grant funded by the NSF Technology and Innovation Partnership (TIP) directorate for further enhancement and expansion through the NJIT Center for Translational Research which will be formally established in early Spring 2024.

 Dr. Zhang’s group new TITA project focuses on the commercialization of electrochemical technologies that convert nitrate waste into useful ammonia products such as fertilizer and liquid ammonia. As we know, exposure to excessive nitrate (NO3−) could lead to negative health impacts such as methemoglobinemia and other diseases. To minimize the adverse health impacts of nitrate, the World Health Organization has set a recommended maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 45 mg L−1 NO3− (10 mg·L−1 as nitrate nitrogen) in drinking water. Currently, over 40 million people in the US still do not have access to municipally-treated water, instead relying mostly on private groundwater wells. Even in public water systems, nitrate is among the most commonly reported water quality violations in the US. Thus, there is a need for efficient nitrate removal suitable to protect public health

--- Climate-Smart Electrocatalytic Membrane Technology Transforms Nitrate Pollution into Enhanced Ammonium Salt Fertilizer

The global wastewater treatment market, currently valued at USD 295 billion, is expected to reach USD 572 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 6.9%. This growth highlights the increasing demand for effective nitrate removal, particularly in municipal and agricultural sectors. The agricultural wastewater treatment market alone is projected to grow from USD 2.18 billion in 2021 to USD 3.13 billion by 2030. Besides, huge potential markets exist for treatment of diverse wastewater such as ion exchange brine (global discharge: >50 billion ton per year), landfill leachate (U.S. discharge: >60 million ton per year), mining wastewater (U.S. discharge: >200 million ton per year). Technology development for nitrate removal and ammonia recovery will have both positive environmental and financial impacts. Particularly, electrocatalytic membrane technology, with its unique value propositions (e.g., potentially driven by renewable energy and minimum use of hazardous chemicals), stands poised to capture a significant portion of this market and offer both environmental benefits and lucrative business opportunities. 

Dr. Wen Zhang's group at NJIT plans to develop novel flow-through electrocatalytic membrane systems to recover nutrients such as nitrate or ammonia (NH3). This cutting-edge electrocatalytic membrane technology has proven effective for NO3− conversion into NH3 with concurrent NH3 recovery as valuable products such as ammonia salt fertilizers. This innovative electrocatalytic membrane and cell system will use a reactive gas-permeable cathodic membrane to efficiently convert NO3− in the influent flow through feed stream to NH3, and subsequently trap the NH3 via an acid solution generated by the anode, which results in the generation of ammonium salt solution fertilizer. Compared to conventional methods like ion exchange, air stripping and biological nitrification/denitrification, electrocatalytic membrane technology provides nitrogen removal from water or wastewater and nitrogen upcycling via nitrogen nutrient recovery and reuse. This system is electrochemically driven, which eliminates secondary pollution or the addition of external carbon or chemicals. This electrocatalytic membrane design selects a copper-based material, which is not on the DOE’s Critical Mineral list, unlike other similar technologies that may employ Critical Minerals content (e.g., platinum and palladium) for the catalytic component. Broader impacts, beyond these environmental and sustainability benefits, exhibited by our bench-top results indicate a lower carbon intensity than industrial NH3 gas synthesis via the Haber-Bosch process, which may provide a transformative pathway to “green” ammonia and industrial decarbonization.  

Congratulations to 2024 TITA Seed Grant