The Li Research Group in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick focuses on advancing the sustainability of water and energy infrastructure through integrated experimentation and modeling. Specifically, we are interested in (i) experimental development of thermochemical and catalytic technologies for bioprocess engineering and resource recovery; and (ii) sustainable design and systems analysis to guide the research, development, and deployment (RD&D) of technologies and inform decision-making.
Toward experimentation, we are particularly interested in resource recovery from wet organic wastes. Characterized by their large quantities and heterogenic nature, organic wastes are challenging to valorize but have the potential to realize cost and environmental positive management through tailored processes. For example, hydrothermal technologies (e.g., hydrothermal liquefaction, HTL; catalytic hydrothermal gasification, CHG) have emerged as promising alternatives for such application due to their unique suitability for processing high-moisture and complex wastes with simultaneous destruction of emerging contaminants (e.g., per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFASs). Within this theme, we have investigated the valorization of multiple feedstocks (e.g., algae; wastewater sludge; fat, oil, and grease) for the production of biofuels, fertilizers, and platform chemicals.
Sustainable Design & Systems Analysis
With the experimental foundation, we leverage the quantitative sustainable design (QSD) methodology to guide the RD&D of technologies and inform decision-making. QSD provides a transparent and agile approach to characterize the sustainability of systems using techniques (e.g., techno-economic analysis, TEA; life cycle assessment, LCA) and indicators (e.g., minimum selling price, global warming potential) covering economic, environmental, health, and social dimensions.
To enable the execution of QSD and inform decision-making, we also develop multiple open-source platforms (e.g., QSDsan for sanitation and resource recovery systems; BioSTEAM for biorefineries) for system design, simulation, as well as sustainability characterization (e.g., through TEA and LCA).
The wide applicability of the QSD methodology allows us to collaborate with researchers from multiple disciplines (e.g., agronomics, ecosystem, genomics, chemical and metabolic engineering) and characterize the sustainability of interdisciplinary systems, identify gaps and bottlenecks, prioritize research directions, and set explicit targets.
The QSDsan Platform
QSDsan is an open-source platform in Python that integrates system design, process modeling, simulation, TEA, and LCA under uncertainty. Systems developed using QSDsan are deposited in the EXPOsan (exposition) repository. We also contribute to the development of other open-source tools for water and wastewater treatment, including WaterTAP funded by the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI). Efforts are also underway to integrate decision-making and optimization capacities (leveraging DMsan) as well as to develop interactive education modules.
The BioSTEAM Platform
Supported by the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), BioSTEAM enables the design, simulation, TEA, and LCA of biorefineries under uncertainty. It has been used by researchers across the world to design assess the sustainability of novel feedstocks and emerging bioproducts. Work is also underway to connect BioSTEAM with upstream ecosystem and logistic models to enable dynamic, high-resolution, and spatiotemporally resolved field-to-refinery modeling framework.