CAREER Award will help address nitrate pollution in groundwater
Huiyuan Zhu, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Virginia Tech, has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to study new ways to reduce nitrate pollution in groundwater.
The project will receive $592,850 from the National Science Foundation and support Zhu’s research group as it focuses on the discovery and design of catalysts that enable efficient nitrate-to-ammonia transformation driven by renewable electricity. The project seeks to address the disruption of the natural nitrogen cycle brought on by industrial production and use of ammonia-based fertilizers and contamination of groundwater with nitrates.
Zhu and her team will develop design strategies for single-atom alloy electrocatalysts for ammonia synthesis and advance the fundamental understanding of both the catalytic active sites and the elementary mechanisms. And they will use electrochemistry to react nitrate compounds with hydrogen derived sustainably from water to manufacture NH3, while simultaneously decomposing the nitrate pollutants and restoring balance to the nitrogen cycle.
In addition to that work, Zhu’s group will train students from diverse groups at the interface of catalysis, chemistry, and engineering. The research will be integrated with educational and outreach efforts to illustrate the importance of sustainability in daily life, while stimulating excitement for STEM amongst K-12 youth, especially those from low-income families.