2019 Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science™ Awards Competition Winner

E3S Superior Achievement Award

Superior Achievement in Environmental Engineering and Science

Category Entered: University Research

Emergency Water Treatment with Ferrate(VI) in Response to Natural Disasters

Entrant: Yang Deng, Ph.D., P.E.
Engineer in Charge: Yang Deng, Ph.D., P.E.
Location: Montclair, New Jersey
Media Contact: Yang Deng

Entrant Profile

Yang Deng, PhD, PE is Professor of Environmental Engineering at Montclair State University (the second largest National Research University in New Jersey) and a licensed environmental engineer (Florida). Prior to joining Montclair, he was a faculty at University of Puerto Rico. Prof. Deng earned his PhD (Environmental Engineering) at University of Miami and his BS and MS (Civil Engineering) from Tongji University (China). He is the recipient of 2018 Nanova Frontier Research Award (Chinese-American Professors in Environmental Engineering and Science).

Prof. Deng has strong fundamental and applied research interests in innovative and sustainable water treatment technologies. He has secured funding (>$2 millions) from various sources. Through these projects, he mentored 5 postdocs, 11 graduate students, and 11 visiting professors, and authored/co-authored 110 peer-reviewed articles and 5 book chapters (cited 5,400+ times; h-index=35) over the past thirteen years.

Revolutionizing water treatment with ferrate(VI) is his major research effort. His cumulative endeavors provides a scientific basis for utilization of ferrate(VI) for addressing different water challenges. The nominated emergency water treatment (EWT) project was inspired by the water crisis after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. This represents the first scientific effort to apply ferrate(VI) to EWT for disaster-affected populations. He directed the research. Specific contributions include to design experiments, develop reactors, advise students, analyze data, prepare manuscripts, identify follow-on research directions, and prepare new proposals. Project findings was published as the Cover Paper of Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology.

Others involved:

  • Chanil Jung (postdoc)
  • Junkui Cui, Lei Zheng (PhD students)

Project Description


Frequency and magnitude of natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes) have increased globally. United States was ranked No. 2 among the most frequently hit countries by natural disasters during 2006-2015. In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria sequentially made landfalls in the U.S. and its territories, causing an economic loss of $170-300 billion and killing at least 164 American citizens. Clean water is a top priority after catastrophic disasters for drinking, cooking, and hygiene. However, three household emergency water treatment (EWT) methods FEMA recommends (i.e. boiling, chlorination, and distillation) are not all feasible or effective in many emergency situations.

Recent Puerto Rican water crisis following Hurricane Maria highlights EWT research needs. One week after the storm, ~50% of 3.4 million residents did not have running water at 32°C. It was extremely difficult to transport water among different towns due to road damage, fuel shortage, and curfew. People started to collect drinking water from streams and runoff using unsafe containers (e.g. trash bins). The experience underlined distinctive challenges EWTs face:

  1. Multiple pollutants at highly varied concentrations are present;
  2. No/limited water quality measurement and monitoring are available;
  3. No/minimal energy (e.g. electricity and gasoline) is available;
  4. Easy operation is required.

An Integrated Approach


A holistic approach was adopted to develop and design innovative EWTs with ferrate(VI). The research was proposed and developed from PI's recent cumulative efforts in ferrate(VI) studies. Ferrate(VI), i.e. FeO42−(Fig.1), is a multi-function agent with little formation of disinfection byproducts (DBPs). The unique traits enables a straightforward but potentially effective solution to address aforementioned challenges. Six specific tasks, which tackled the challenges in different aspects, were pursued:

  1. to assess treatment efficiencies for various contaminants under varied conditions;
  2. to elucidate the correlation of ferrate(VI) dose, size distribution of ferrate(VI)-resultant particles, and toxic metal removals;
  3. to develop and implement different household EWT designs;
  4. to evaluate negative treatment impacts (e.g. DBP formation and TDS increase);
  5. to determine chemical leaching of ferrate(VI)-resultant sludge in case of soil and groundwater pollution during solid waste disposal; and
  6. cost analysis to determine economic acceptance.

Quality and Significance

Clean water is essential during the aftermath of natural disasters. This study designed and developed a new, safe, resilient, affordable, and easy-to-use EWT, at a community or household scale, with ferrate(VI). The invented EWT can simultaneously treat multiple contaminants in disaster-polluted waters to meet with survival demands of disaster- affected populations and prevent infectious disease outbreaks. Moreover, the EWT is safe without production of DBPs. Iron sludge does not leach undesirable chemicals to pollute other environmental media during residual disposal. The residuals primarily comprising iron (hydr)oxides can be beneficially reused (e.g. stormwater treatment). Dr. Deng's work on ferrate(VI) has resulted in peer-reviewed publications[1]-[8] (including a journal cover paper[1]) and conference presentations. Significance of the research is also demonstrated in three enclosed testimonial letters.

Originality and Innovation

Existing EWT options difficultly tackle complex challenges under many emergency situations. Innovation of this project is the first application of ferrate(VI) chemistry knowledge to EWT. Of note, the novel EWT built on recent advances of ferrate(VI) science, which Dr. Deng has made cumulative contributions to, including:

  1. to reveal unique ferrate(VI) degradation behaviors for more accurate determination of Ct;[2]
  2. to elucidate ferrate(VI)-driven coagulative mechanisms;[3]
  3. to understand ferrate(VI) reactions with dissolved organic matter;[2,4,5]
  4. to explore DBP formation;[6] and
  5. to assess settleability of ferrate(VI)- resultant particles.[7]

Multiple functions of ferrate(VI) enable simultaneous removals of a spectrum of contaminants. For example, ferrate(VI) (7.0 mg/L) can concurrently achieve 3.8 log reduction of total coliform, remove 98% of As (45 μg/L), 96% of Pb (84 μg/L), 95% of Cd (100 μg/L), 99% of Zn (145 μg/L), and 98% of Cu (1.2 mg/L), eliminate 86% of turbidity (11.88 NTU), and alleviate 60% of UV254 absorbance (0.247 cm-1) in a sewage-polluted water. Originality of this study is also embodied in the novel design of a household EWT (ferrate(VI) teabags, Photo 10). Simplicity, effectiveness, and low cost encourage more end users to accept the new EWT products.

Economic and Social Impacts

This project advances ferrate(VI) chemistry and develops new EWT technologies. Benefits are straightforward and immediate to disaster-affected populations, because clean water is vital to survival and public health. Sanitation with water can reduce the transmission of faceco-oral diseases and exposure to disease-bearing vectors. The resulted rapid disaster relief can save lives and minimize economic loss from disasters. Although this project targeted at EWT, the technologies can be readily applied at other scenarios such as industrial wastewater treatment (e.g. metal removal from flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater), small rural water systems, military bases, scientific expedition, and site remediation.

References (PI's recent publications on ferrate(VI) studies)

[1] Cui, J., L. Zheng, Y. Deng (Front Cover Paper) (2018) "Emergency Water Treatment with Ferrate(VI) in Response to Natural Disasters," Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, 4, 339-470.

[2] Deng, Y., C. Jung, Y. Liang, N. Goodey, T. Waite (2018) "Ferrate(VI) Decomposition in Water in the Presence of Natural Organic Matter (NOM)," Chemical Engineering Journal, 334, 2335-2342.

[3] Lv, D., H. Zhang, L. Zheng, Y. Deng (2018) "Coagulation of Colloidal Particles with Ferrate(VI)," Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, 4, 701-710.

[4] Song, Y., Y. Deng, C. Jung (2016) "Mitigation and Degradation of Natural Organic Matter (NOM) during Ferrate(VI) Application for Drinking Water Treatment," Chemosphere, 146, 145-153.

[5] Li, N., Y. Deng, D. Sarkar (2017) Ferrate(VI) Reaction With Effluent Organic Matter (EfOM) in Secondary Effluent for Water Reuse, in Ferrites and Ferrates: Chemistry and Applications in Sustainable Energy and Environmental Remediation, by Virender Sharma (Editor), ACS Publications.

[6] Huang, X., Y. Deng, S. Liu, Y. Song, N. Li, J. Zhou (2016) "Formation of Bromate during Ferrate(VI) Oxidation of Bromide in Water," Chemosphere, 155, 528-533.

[7] Zheng, L., Y. Deng (2016) "Settleability and Surface Characteristics of Ferrate(VI)-Induced Particles in Advanced Wastewater Treatment," Water Research, 93, 172-178.

[8] Deng, Y., M. Wu, L. Zheng, H. Zhang, Acosta, H., Hsu, T. (2017) "Addressing Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Impacts with Ferrate(VI): Simultaneous Removal of Algal Cells and Toxins for Drinking Water Treatment," Chemosphere, 186, 757-761.

Click images to enlarge in separate window.

E3S Photos

Front Cover of Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology (Issue 3, 2018; Royal Society of Chemistry).

The cover page highlights Dr. Deng's research on ferrate(VI) emergency water treatment

E3S Photos

Graphic Abstract of the Front Cover Paper: Cui, J., L. Zheng, and Y. Deng "Emergency Water Treatment with Ferrate(VI) in Response to Natural Disasters," Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, 4, 339-470

E3S Photos

Log reductions of total coliforms and E. coli at different ferrate(VI) doses during ferrate(VI) treatment of sewage polluted surface water. (Cui et al., 2018)

This figure shows effective inactivation of pathogen indicators in water with ferrate(VI) during an emergency water treatment.

E3S Photos

Concentrations of residual inorganic contaminants at different ferrate(VI) doses during ferrate(VI) treatment of sewage polluted stormwater runoff. (Cui et al., 2018)

This figure shows that ferrate(VI) is and capable of concurrently and effectively capturing various toxic heavy metals and metalloids during an emergency water treatment.

E3S Photos

Residual turbidity, EC, and UV254 absorbance of the supernatant at different ferrate(VI) doses during ferrate(VI) treatment of sewage polluted surface water (initial turbidity = 11.88 NTU, initial TDS = 310 μs/cm, and initial UV254 absorbance = 0.247 cm-1) (Cui et al., 2018)

This figure shows that ferrate(VI) can simultaneously and effectively remove turbidity and dissolved organic matter with a limited increase in TDS in an emergency water treatment.

E3S Photos

Ferrate(VI) decomposition in a simulated natural water (pH = 7.50; [Fe(VI)]0 = 54.0 μM; NOM = 0.00-10.00 mg/L DOC; symbols and lines represent the measured and model data, respectively; the insert shows the initial ferrate(VI) decomposition due to NOM ([ΔFe(VI)]tDOC) against the initial NOM (mg/L DOC) at pH = 7.50; the relative standard deviations of Fe(VI) decomposition results are < 5%, not shown here; and the error bars in the inset represent one standard deviation). (Jung et al, 2018)

This figure shows that ferrate(VI) decomposition in water undergoes a unique three-phase degradation pattern in the presence of NOM. The initial ferrate(VI) loss is linearly correlated to DOC.

E3S Photos

αNOM vs. SUVA in simulated and realistic natural raw waters (Here, initial [Fe(VI)] loss due to NOM = αNOMDOC; pH = 7.50; water sources: SDW: simulated natural water; six raw waters from different water treatment plants, including two reservoir waters from Short Hills, New Jersey (NJ-SH) and Duval, Washington (WA-DU); and four river waters from Totowa, New Jersey (NJ-TO), Bridgewater, New Jersey (NJ-BR), Davenport, Iowa (IA-DA), and Peoria, Illinois (IL-PE). Raw water samples were provided from American Water) (Jung et al., 2018)

αNOM is an important parameter to determine the initial ferrate(VI) loss (initial Fe(VI) loss = αNOMDOC). Dr. Deng finds that αNOM only exhibits a strong linear correlation with SUVA, regardless of surface water source types or initial DOC levels (αNOM = 0.27SUVA + 0.18, R2 = 0.71). The finding allows for estimation of the initial Fe(VI) loss due to the reactions with NOM in raw water.

E3S Photos

TEM images of particles in simulated natural water: (a)-(b) kaolin particles suspended in water before Fe(VI) coagulation; and (c) kaolin particles incorporated into ferrate(VI)-induced iron precipitates (3.0 mg/L Fe(VI)) (pH 7.5; DOC = 2.00 mg/L; and initial turbidity = 25.00 NTU) (Lv et al., 2018)

The images shows that sweep coagulation plays a key role in ferrate(VI) coagulation of colloidal at the study conditions.

E3S Photos

FlowCAM images of the iron flocs generated during the initial phase of ferrate(VI) treatment of algae in water: a) algae coagulated by iron floc; and 2) a FlowCAM imaging particle analyzer can simultaneously capture individual pictures for all the flocs in water.

Dr. Deng's group first applied the flow imaging particle analyzer (FlowCAM) to study ferrate(VI) coagulation in water.

E3S Photos

Size distributions of non-settable particles after ferrate(VI) treatment at different doses during ferrate(VI) treatment of sewage polluted stormwater runoff. (Cui et al., 2018)

This figure shows that size distribution of ferrate(VI) resultant particles relies heavily upon ferrate(VI) dose.

E3S Photos

Distributions of particulate, colloidal, and soluble Fe, As, Pb, Cd, Zn, and Cu after ferrate(VI) treatment of sewage polluted strormwater runoff (Colloidal and particulate Fe exist in Ferrate(VI)-resultant particles) . (Cui et al., 2018)

E3S Photos E3S Photos E3S Photos E3S Photos

Application of a ferrate(VI) pre-packed teabag (a household ferrate(VI) EWT design) for treatment of raw sewage-polluted river water under an emergency situation.

  1. place a ferrate(VI) teabag into a polluted water for EWT;
  2. after ferrate(VI) is completely depleted (the purple color vanishes), pour water through paper coffee filters;
  3. ferrate(VI) flocs are captured by the paper coffee filters;
  4. water after ferrate(VI) emergency treatment (3, 5, 7, and 9 represents the ferrate(VI) doses of 3, 5, 7, 9 mg/L as Fe) (all the water quality parameters meet with the U.S. drinking water standards after ferrate(VI) emergency water treatment)

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