New Cellulose-based Air Filter Offers Cost-Effective Low Resistance

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Student Design Wins Award

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Qijun Zhang, a graduate student studying at the University of Tennessee Center for Renewable Carbon, which is part of the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, has developed a new nanocellulose-based material that has outstanding air filtration performance. Co-advised by Professors Siqun Wang and Timothy M. Young, Zhang received the first place award in the student poster competition at the 2019 Society of Wood Science and Technology (SWST) International convention in Yosemite National Park, California. SWST is a leading, internationally recognized, professional organization of wood scientists, engineers, marketing specialists and other professionals who specialize in lignocellulosic materials.

More than 30 students from across the world participated in the competitive poster session. Zhang’s poster, “A novel method for fabricating an electrospun polyvinyl alcohol/cellulose nanocrystals composite nanofibrous filter with low air resistance for high-efficiency filtration of particulate matter,” described his successful fabrication of a cellulose-based, fibrous air filter that has the potential to remove more than 99% of fine particles in air and while possessing high air permeability. Air pressure decline is less than one thousandth of an atmospheric pressure through the filter. Since the entire fabrication process and benign materials are environmentally friendly, and the filter is cost effective, this new product is highly promising for indoor air purification applications. 

In addition, the research holds significant implications for removing dangerous particulate matter (PM) from the air. PM is comprised of tiny solid and liquid particles in the air, with exposure to PM linked to a myriad of health problems.

Zhang, originally from Guiyang City in Guizhou Province, China, received his bachelor of science from Wuhan University of Technology and his master’s degree from Nanjing University. This research is published on the American Chemical Society’s website​, Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, and the UT Research Foundation has filed a patent application. 

“Air pollution affects a large number of people in the world, and I hope that our research will improve the living quality of those affected. It is delightful that our product doesn’t require a lot of energy to get air through the filter, compared with conventional air filters. This is important because it saves energy and reduces potential emissions,” notes Zhang. 

Wang notes the importance of this work for global environmental health moving forward. “The recent concern over the abundance of micro-plastics in terrestrial and oceanic biosystems has questioned the long-term viability of plastics for a variety of consumer products. These green, bio-derived materials will be part of the solution. Qijun has fabricated a high-efficiency air filter for particulate matter through a green process, and he is using only biodegradable materials including cellulose nanofibers. Qijun is continuing his effort to make sure the nanofibrous filter is reusable, thus enhancing the sustainability of his design.” ​

The UT Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries is part of the Herbert College of Agriculture, UT AgResearch and UT Extension at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. The curricula focus on a mastery learning approach, emphasizing practical, hands-on experiences. FWF’s faculty, staff and students conduct research and extension that advances the science and sustainable management of our natural resources. For more information, visit​.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.

Media Contact

Kristy Keel-Blackmon

Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries



Qijun Zhang