NWRI fellowship boosts Zhou’s work on non-chlorine approach to water disinfection

Ph.D. student Jianfeng Zhou, who has won a fellowship from the National Water Research Institute.

Second-year Ph.D. student Jianfeng Zhou has won a two-year fellowship from the National Water Research Institute to support his work using low-voltage electricity to disinfect water.

Zhou said the NWRI-BioLargo Graduate Fellowship offers funding he needs to finish his doctoral studies as well as validation for the research he’s been doing.

“It’s a great encouragement to receive the fellowship in the early stage of my Ph.D. study,” said Zhou, who’s working with Carlton S. Wilder Assistant Professor Xing Xie. “Although I have already made some progress, I am always wondering: Are the majority of the researchers in our field interested in my research? How do they value my work? Can I turn my results into practical applications? This fellowship gives me confidence as I continue my studies.”

Zhou is building on a water-disinfection method Xie developed that uses low-voltage electricity to purify water. His idea is to implement such a system along the water distribution network rather than solely at a central facility, like a water treatment plant.

“The most widely used chlorine disinfection process generates carcinogenic disinfection by-products, but it is cheap in cost, easy to operate, and we have enormous engineering experience [using it],” Zhou said. His and Xie’s process, called low-voltage electroporation disinfection, “can achieve high disinfection efficiency with very low energy input. Most importantly, it is by-product-free.”

Zhou said funding opportunities like this fellowship are competitive, but he thought his work was a perfect fit for the kind of work the institute and BioLargo wanted to support. The fellowship program awards funding to graduate students studying water resources and water treatment, according to the institute, and BioLargo’s business focuses on innovative water treatment technology that uses little energy.

Zhou praised Xie for helping him through the process; he said they sometimes sat together for hours working on Zhou’s proposal.

“This is the first proposal submitted in my life, so I lacked too much necessary knowledge. Dr. Xie was so patient to teach me, little by little.”