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USDA Awards Professor $750K Grant for Wastewater Research

Yang Deng will lead four-year study on developing sustainable water reuse systems through USDA funding

Posted in: Graduate School, Homepage News, Press Releases, Research, Science and Technology, Uncategorized, University

Yang Deng standing in a research lab
Yang Deng, 2020-2021 Montclair State University Distinguished Scholar

The work to improve the systems keeping our water safe is ever-evolving and increasingly challenging, but one environmental engineer at Montclair State University is tackling it head-on.

Earth and Environmental Studies Professor Yang Deng has been awarded a $750,000 grant toward a four-year research study that will work to develop innovative wastewater reuse technologies for agricultural irrigation.

The goal of the research is to develop design principles for a novel iron-based water reuse process to transform municipal wastewater into quality irrigation water. The aim is to strongly support the resilience and sustainability of U.S. agriculture, while mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts, Deng says.

“The technology will enable local water recycling in a more cost and energy efficient manner and thus reduce the reliance on long-distance water and wastewater transport, which is the current dominant water management scheme,” Deng says.

The grant, awarded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture as part of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), was one of 14 awards totaling nearly $9 million.

Considered the nation’s leading competitive grants program for agricultural sciences, the AFRI program seeks to “improve water science, management and technologies, water conservation and water use efficiency.”

As an environmental engineer, Deng’s expertise centers on the development of innovative and sustainable technologies to clean wastewater, stormwater runoff, and landfill leachate in order to protect drinking water and groundwater supplies from toxic metals, organic pollutants, water-borne pathogens and excess nutrients.

In June 2021, Deng was named University Distinguished Scholar for the 2020-2021 academic year. During the semester of research leave, Deng and his team developed and tested a new water treatment technology that targets persistent organic pollutants known as “forever chemicals” – compounds such as pesticides, herbicides and other organic chemicals that pose risk to both the environment and public health – that are highly resistant to traditional methods of chemical, biological and photolytic degradation.

During his time at Montclair State University, Deng has secured more than $2.5 million in research funding and authored or co-authored 125 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Committed to mentoring students and professionals at all levels, Deng has also provided guidance to high school interns from around New Jersey and early-career scientists around the world.

“Dr. Deng is an academic role model that excels in both research and education,” says Lora Billings, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “His work is a wonderful example of how Montclair State University focuses considerable academic resources on research related to issues of environmental sustainability, an area that needs the world’s attention now more than ever.”

For more information on Earth and Environmental Studies at Montclair, visit