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Andlinger Center News

June 24, 2024
A man leaning against a tree.
Z. Jason Ren (photo by Bumper DeJesus).

Z. Jason Ren awarded top environmental honor for decarbonization and resource recovery research

In recognition of his pioneering work at the intersection of water, energy, and climate, Z. Jason Ren has received the Walter J. Weber, Jr. AEESP Frontier in Research Award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors.

The award is given annually to an environmental engineering or science professor who has demonstrated research leadership and pioneering efforts in new and innovative research areas. Ren, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, was recognized for “his groundbreaking work in resource recovery and decarbonization and broadening environmental engineering to play a key role in climate solutions.”

At Princeton, Ren and his research team have advanced fundamental understanding and explored numerous technologies at the nexus of water and energy, including transforming wastewater treatment into multifunctional facilities for renewable energy production. For instance, past work has explored methods for pulling pure hydrogen from industrial waste streams and capturing and converting carbon dioxide from sewers into value-added chemicals. Ren’s group also discovered that existing guidelines for estimating greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment plants likely underpredict actual emissions by nearly a factor of two, a finding that could inform an updated set of international guidelines.

Recently, Ren’s team engineered a set of strings capable of separating and harvesting lithium from salt-rich solutions such as brines, produced water, or even seawater. The scalable strings could dramatically reduce the amount of time, land, and energy required for lithium extraction. The technology is being commercialized by a Princeton startup to meet the world’s booming demand for lithium and other critical minerals.

“Jason has been instrumental in broadening the scope of the environmental engineering discipline, as his work has moved beyond the traditional focus on pollution control and contaminant transport,” wrote Lutgarde Raskin, the Altarum/ERIM Russell O’Neal Professor and Vernon L. Snoeyink Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan. “Through his visionary research and leadership, he has shown the vital role environmental engineers can play in broader environmental and climate issues.”

Ren joined the Princeton faculty in 2018 and founded the Water and Energy Technologies (WET) Lab. He is also the associate director for research at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. Ren earned a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Pennsylvania State University after spending several years in the engineering consulting industry.