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Associate Professor Ajit Kumar Sarmah

PhD (Soil and Water), University of Adelaide, SA, Australia (1998) MS (Soil Physics) University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane, Australia (1994) MEng (Soil and Water), Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand (1988) BScAgEng (Dist), University of Allahabad, India (1983)


  • Associate Professor

Dr. Sarmah is an Associate Professor in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department within the Environmental Engineering Group. Prior to joining The University of Auckland, he was a Senior Research Scientist with Landcare Research, a Crown Research Institute (CRI) in Hamilton, NZ for nearly 10 years. Earlier he worked in the School of Civil Engineering and School of Agronomy of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA as a Visiting Post-Doctoral Scientist, as a Research Officer in University of Western Australia, and as a Research Associate at the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand.

He currently leads multi-disciplinary research projects in a number of topical and environmentally significant areas:

  • Production of biochar and characterisation using novel techniques;
  • Soil organic matter characterisation to quantify changes in soil C pools as affected by land-use changes,
  • Fate and transport behaviour of endocrine disrupting chemicals (i.e single free and conjugated hormones associated with land-application of dairy effluent), veterinary medicines and personal care products in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,
  • Development of novel adsorbents using biochar to remove contaminants from aqueous and soil systems;
  • Design, development and testing of wood plastic biochar composite and testing their mechanical, and thermal properties
  • Development of novel biosensors using waste derived black carbon 

Ajit has active collaboration with colleagues from overseas (Tsinghua University, China; NSW Industry & Investment; Khon Kaen University, Thailand; Purdue University, USA; Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur; University of Wuppertal, Germany; University of Trier, Germany; Shantou University, China; Zhejiang University, China; Kore University, Seoul and Hong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong) and within NZ (Landcare Research, Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council).

Research | Current

  • Sustainable waste utilisation through biochar added wood plastic composite
  • Photo-catalytic degradation of sulfamethoxazole using novel magnetic adsorbents in aqueous systems
  • Investigation of nanomaterials and plant inetraction through integrated biophysical methods
  • Fate (sorption-desorption and degradation kinetics), transport, modelling and effects of emerging contaminants including natural (free and conjugated hormones) and synthetic estrogens, veterinary and human pharmaceuticals in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Prioritisation and risk assessment of emerging chemicals (human and veterinary drugs, nano-materials) including pesticide degradates in NZ’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Phospholipid Fatty Acid (PLFA) analysis to determine the changes in microbial community structure and their role in antibiotic degradation in laboratory soil microcosms.
  • Pyrolysis and biochar production/characterisation, Biochar as an effective engineered sorbent for contaminant uptake, C sequestration and climate change mitigation.
  • Biochar as soil amendment to improve soil hydrology, mitigate soil erosion and nutrient loss.
  • Soil-organic matter characterisation using novel techniques (SEM-EDAX, FTIR, NMR, TEM, DG-DSC, Py-GCSM) to quantify changes in C pools as a function of land-use change.

Research groups

Teaching | Current


  • ENVENG 244 Environmental Engineering 1
  • ENVENG 342 Environmental Engineering Design
  • ENVENG 341 Environmental Engineering 2
  • ENVENG 747 Soil Contaminant & Fate Modelling

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students:

Justin George (Started Jan 2018)

Venkata Sai Praneeth (Started Feb 2018)

Nana Zhang (started Nov 2017)

Farzaneh Feizi (started Dec 2017)

Adebiyi Gbenga (staretd August 2016)

Najam Ul Saqib (started April 2016)

Ali Akhtar, PhD (started March 2016)

Goldy De Bhowmick, PhD (started Dec 2015)

Rowena Briones (started March 2015)

Wuttipong Mahakham, PhD (started March 2012)

Completed PhD Students:

Febelyn Reguyal, PhD (2017)

Oisik Das, PhD (2017)

Bridget Rule, PhD (2017)

Prakash Srinivasan, PhD (2013)

Laura Steiner, PhD (2009)

Farnk Scherr, PhD (2009)

Co-supervsion of PhD:

Gislaine Pardo 

Mostafa Saifan, PhD (Waikato University)


Masters Students:

Bo Zhang (ME completed in 2013)

Shanshan Zhang (ME completed in 2014)

Xiaochen Yang (ME completed in 2016)

Kate Dawkins (ME completed in 2016)

Anna Lewis (ME completed in 2018)

Postdoctoral Fellows:

Dr. Prakash Srinivasan (2012 - 2014)

Dr. Saeid Baroutian (2014-2015)


  • Highly Cited Author (2005-2010; 2006-2011) Award: A Global Perspective on the Use, Sales, Exposure Pathways, Occurrence, Fate and Effects of Veterinary Antibiotics (VAs) in the Environment” Sarmah et al. Chemosphere: Vol 65 (5), 725-759, 2006. To date, cited > 2000 (google scholar), and > 1300 (SCOPUS) times.


  • Invited by Centre for Environmental Contaminant Research, CSIRO Land and Water, Adelaide to contribute to a book chapter on “Biochar” between the Landcare Research and CSIRO Land and Water. June, 2009, with all expenses paid.


  • Best Poster Award at the Asia Pacific Biochar Conference 17-19 May, 2009, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Poster titled: Retention capacity of three types of biochar for an estrogenic steroid hormone and its primary metabolites in a NZ dairy farm soil.


  • Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ) International Science and Technology (ISAT) grant: “Prioritisation of emerging contaminants using toxicity & exposure modelling and the impact of climate change on their fate in the NZ environment.” Hosted Professor Alistair Boxall, Fellow, Food and Environment Research Agency/University of York, York, the UK. June 2009.


  • Best Poster Award at the Annual New Zealand Hydrological Society Conference, 16–18 November, 2004, Queenstown, New Zealand. Poster titled: Modelling the dissipation kinetics of six commonly used pesticides in New Zealand


  • ISAT (International Science And Technology) Linkages Fund from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MORST) to attend & present paper at the INTERACT 2002 Conference, Sydney 21-25 July, 2002,


  • Research Abroad Award from the Grains Research and Development Corporation of Australia in 1998 to visit and work at DuPont Experimental Station, Wilmington, USA, 12-22 Feb 1998.


  • Travel and study abroad scholarship from the University of Adelaide and the CRC for Soil and Land Management, Adelaide to present paper at the 38th WSSA annual meeting in Chicago (9-11 Feb. 1998) and to visit the Institute for Arable Crop Research (Rothamsted), U.K.


  • Grain Research & Development Corporation of Australia PhD scholarship the Department of Soil and Water, The University of Adelaide, South Australia


  • Postgraduate Scholarship by the Royal Government of Norway in 1987 to pursue M.Eng at the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand


Theme Leader, Infrastructure & Environment

Member, Equity Committee


Areas of expertise

  • Environmental fate, distribution and modelling of organic contaminanats including estrogenic steroid hormones and veterinary antibiotics
  • Role of black carbon in contaminants bioavailability and fate, biochar characterisation
  • Prioritisation of contaminants of concern using exposure modelling and toxicity approach
  • Climate change issues including sustainable science & engineering
  • Pyrolysis of biomass for biochar and biofuel production, bioenergy
  • Development of novel biocomposites and building/construction materials from organic waste.
  • Thermal and spectroscopic investigation of natural non-living organic matter

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Editorial Services

  • Associate Editor, Science of the Total Environment (
  • Associate Editor, Environmental Management (

Professional affiliations

  • American Chemical Society
  • Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
  • Australia New Zealand Biochar Network
  • International Biochar Intitiative

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • El-Naggar, A., Lee, S. S., Rinklebe, J., Farooq, M., Song, H., Sarmah, A. K., ... Ok, Y. S. (2019). Biochar application to low fertility soils: A review of current status, and future prospects. Geoderma, 337, 536-554. 10.1016/j.geoderma.2018.09.034
  • De Bhowmick, G., Sarmah, A. K., & Sen, R. (2019). Zero-waste algal biorefinery for bioenergy and biochar: A green leap towards achieving energy and environmental sustainability. The Science of the total environment, 650 (Pt 2), 2467-2482. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.002
  • Briones, R. M., & Sarmah, A. K. (2019). Sorption and mobility of metformin and guanylurea in soils as affected by biosolid amendment: Batch and column tests. Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987), 244, 19-27. 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.10.025
  • Briones, R. M., Zhuang, W.-Q., & Sarmah, A. K. (2018). Biodegradation of metformin and guanylurea by aerobic cultures enriched from sludge. ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION, 243, 255-262. 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.08.075
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Wei-Qin Zhuang
  • Briones, R. M., & Sarmah, A. K. (2018). Insight into the sorption mechanism of metformin and its transformation product guanylurea in pastoral soils and model sorbents. The Science of the total environment, 645, 1323-1333. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.07.251
  • De Bhowmick, G., Sarmah, A. K., & Sen, R. (2018). Production and characterization of a value added biochar mix using seaweed, rice husk and pine sawdust: A parametric study. JOURNAL OF CLEANER PRODUCTION, 200, 641-656. 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.08.002
  • Saqib, N. U., Baroutian, S., & Sarmah, A. K. (2018). Physicochemical, structural and combustion characterization of food waste hydrochar obtained by hydrothermal carbonization. Bioresource technology, 266, 357-363. 10.1016/j.biortech.2018.06.112
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Saeid Baroutian
  • Akhtar, A., & Sarmah, A. K. (2018). Strength improvement of recycled aggregate concrete through silicon rich char derived from organic waste. Journal of Cleaner Production, 196, 411-423. 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.06.044
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ali Akhtar


Contact details

Primary office location

Level 7, Room 709
New Zealand

Web links