The COVID-19 pandemic sparked public health concerns and urgent demands for technologies to combat transmission of the airborne viruses. The widely accepted, existing methods that have success in preventing infection via airborne transmission include physical barriers and filtration to capture and trap the air pollutants, which usually do not inactivate microbial agents such as bacteria or viruses. Moreover, most air filters for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings are designed to only capture large airborne particles, e.g., dusts, mold spores, and bacteria, but not to target on viral aerosols that are sub-micrometers in size.

Dr. Zhang’s group develops an innovative microwave-responsive catalysts that have been incorporated into the air filtration process to inactivate the captured microbial agents. Microwave responsive catalysts coated on commercial HVAC filters can absorb microwave energy and produce “hotpots” and reactive species on filter surface. The high temperature “hotpots” and reactive radical species enhance pathogen disinfection. The preliminary results show that the removal of bacteriophage MS2, a surrogate virus that mimics pathogenic viral properties, could be removed by up to 100% on catalyst coated filters under microwave irradiation. This reactive air filtration system could be used in hospitals, commercial or residential buildings and transportation systems (e.g., train/airplane/ship or stations). Besides viral species, a broad range of pathogens such as mold spores and bacteria in bioaerosols could also be inactivated.

The demand for innovative air purifiers with antibacterial and antiviral capabilities has surged due to the pandemic, especially in hospitals, commercial buildings, and transportation systems. The successful commercialization of this technology has meaningful impacts on the efficient removal of airborne pathogens to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and thus reduce the risk of public health. This new concept or design of microwave-enabled reactive air filtration could foster new business innovation and opportunities for commercialization and economic growth. This program aims to increase the number of new homes, including multi-unit and affordable housing built with ventilation and filtration improvements that reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission indoors. A novel microwave-catalytic air filtration system promises significant improvements in pathogen disinfection, achieving up to 99% viral removal. This technology can help mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, potentially reducing U.S. healthcare expenses by 25% or more. Additionally, it opens up opportunities for business innovation and economic growth.  

Dr. Zhang group received the phase III funding from the NJIT’s 2022 Technology Innovation Translation and Acceleration (TITA) Program for developing high-efficient inactivation of airborne viruses using a microwave-enabled air filtration system, the first TITA grant for his group's journey to expand translational research

Fig. 1. Schematic of (a) a lab-scaled microwave-enabled air filtration system, (b) a pilot-scaled microwave-enabled catalytic air filtration device for airborne pathogen removal.

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

Principal Investigator

Phone: (973) 596-5520 
Fax: (973) 596-5790

Office Location: Colton Hall 211

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 Wen's Research Group​

Selected Funding Sources:
2023-2024 NJIT Technology Innovation Translation and Acceleration (TITA) Seed Grant
2022 NJEDA CSIT Clean Tech Seed Grant RD2
2023-2024 High-efficient inactivation of airborne viruses using a microwave-enabled air filtration system. NJ Health Foundation. Award#: PC 27-23.
2021-2024 EPA P3 Phase I and II (SU84015001 and SV84041901)
2021-2023 NJIT’s Undergraduate Research and Innovation (URI) Seed Grant
2020-2024 NSF Molecular Separation (Award number: 2025374)
2022 Provost URI Summer Fellowship-Robert Sydney Needham Foundation Fellowship

 Selected References:
Fangzhou Liu, Qingquan Ma, Md Mohidul Alam Sabuj, Shih-Hsiang, Yen, Dheeban Govindan, Jianan Gao, Mengqiang Zhao,*, Menachem Elimelech, Wen Zhang* Electromagnetically Enhanced Bioaerosol Viral Removal using MXene-Coated Air Filters, Accepted by ACS applied materials & interfaces.
Fangzhou Liu, Qingquan Ma, Makid Maskawat Marjub, Ashley Kate Suthammanont, Shaobin Sun, Hong Yao, Yi Tao, Wen Zhang. Reactive Air Disinfection Technologies: Principles and Applications in Bioaerosol Removal. ACS ES&T Engineering, 3.5 (2023): 602-615.

Honors and Awards:
2022 43rd Edison Patent Award from Research & Development Council of New Jersey
2023 Grand Prize-University Research from American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES)

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