eNews March 2021

Meet the Researcher, Huiyao Wang, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Huiyao Wang, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the opportunity to interview Huiyao Wang, an associate professor of Materials Engineering for the Department of Civil Engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Wang has worked at NMSU since 2013 and specializes in advanced research on novel materials and innovative energy for water treatment, solar energy, fuel cells, nanomaterials, and analytical devices. He teaches Fundamentals of Environment Engineering, and has instructed other NMSU courses in the past. Huiyao acknowledges that water is one of the most important factors of life for human beings, and has therefore dedicated his career to developing and researching new opportunities to reuse and preserve it.

Wang received his higher education entirely from Lanzhou University in Lanzhou, China. He earned a BS in Physics (1987), an MS in Semiconductor Physics and Devices (1993), and a PhD in Condensed Matter Physics (1998). His PhD work focused on preparing nano-structure photocatalytic metal oxide thin films to degrade dye wastewater by sunlight. Huiyao is currently a part of the American Society of Civil Engineering, and the Materials Research Society (International). He has additionally served as a guest editor for the journal Catalysts.

Huiyao is currently mentoring Master’s student Thiloka Edirisooriya and PhD student Lin Chen. The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) recently awarded Thiloka Edirisooriya an FY20-21 Student Water Research Grant for her project entitled, Solar reforming of microplastics in water for H2 production and degradation using nanocomposite photocatalysts. This research will study the abundance of microplastics in multiple water sources that tend to absorb toxic chemicals and cause chronic diseases such as cancer within the human body. According to Wang, the result of this experiment will be to develop highly functional nanocomposite photocatalysts to clean water and convert microplastics to H2 energy. By doing this, it will help improve water quality, reduce acute and chronic toxicity in human and aquatic life, and will assist in guiding the potential application of a photocatalysis to assist in remedying microplastic pollution.

Wang has worked with NM WRRI for several years, and has contributed to multiple technical completion reports including Reducing Treatment Costs of Alternative Waters with Antifouling Ion-Exchange Membranes, and Low Cost, Low Energy concentrate Water Desalination Using Heat Recuperative Solar Still with Concentrating Solar Technology. Additional articles by Wang can be found in over 50 peer-reviewed publications with his latest being featured in the open access journal Water (2020) entitled, Interplay of the Factors Affecting Water Flux and Salt Rejection in Membrane Distillation: A State-of-the-Art Critical Review.

Huiyao and his colleagues are currently working on two projects using solar-driven multi-functional photocatalytic oxidation membrane distillation for produced water treatment, and closed-loop water reuse. This research will focus on innovative technology based on the integration of photocatalysis and membrane distillation processes instead of a combination of both. Integration is performed by utilizing solar energy to cause organic degradation on photocatalytic nanoparticles and inactivation of microorganisms while enhancing photothermal efficiency to produce vapor for membrane distillation. Wang states that these “projects aim to develop a multi-functional anti-fouling photocatalytic membrane distillation process that can utilize the full spectrum of solar energy to separate salts, decompose organic contaminants, inactivate pathogens, and produce high quality distillate.”

Using nano or advanced materials and technologies to improve water treatment and develop new water purification technologies is vital to Wang’s research, and he has stated that he would like to develop a transdisciplinary program to integrate nanotechnologies into environmental engineering. He hopes to continue developing immobilized solar photocatalytic reactors for water disinfection and purification as well.

Regarding future research, Huiyao plans to continue using his expertise to enhance environmental sustainability in his upcoming project with Dr. Pei Xu and Dr. Xuesong Xu entitled, Near zero-waste discharge of concentrate treatment using innovative electrodialysis processes. Huiyao is also currently collaborating with researchers at the University of Cincinnati, University of Michigan, University of California at Davis, California State University Fresno, and NMSU on several different research projects. He aims to participate in as many new developments related to environmental sustainability as possible, and hopes for additional cooperative opportunities with NM WRRI, NMSU, and other universities.