Researchers scaling up technology that destroys PFAS contamination

Researchers from the University of Purdue recently received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) to scale up a patented technology that can destroy poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater.

PFAS include perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) and are found at more than 600 military training sites across the United States where firefighter training involved the use of PFAS-containing foams. They also are found at airports, which use similar chemical foams to put out fires.

PFAS have been linked to cancer, thyroid dysfunction, liver disease, immune system impairment, and other serious medical concerns. The compounds also are found in contaminated drinking water.

Linda Lee, a professor of agronomy in Purdue’s College of Agriculture, has patented a technology that destroys PFAS through the use of a permeable reactive barrier constructed in the subsurface.  Ms. Lee stated, “Our approach is different from current technologies, which are focused on capture and not destruction. We target compound destruction with a design that has potential to be used as part of a permeable reactive barrier underground to eradicate these compounds in groundwater to keep them from spreading.”

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“This is a significant problem because these compounds, which are found in our blood, drinking water, homes and products, do not degrade naturally,” Lee said. “Our team has patented technology involving the use of nickel and iron nanoparticles synthesized onto activated carbon to capture, attack and destroy the compounds.”

Recently, Lee’s team received part of a $6 million science to achieve results grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the issue of the compounds ending up in waste streams and eventually drinking water. The latest award comes after the team received earlier funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. The team’s recent work also has included international partnerships in Pakistan through The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Lee patented her nanoparticle innovation through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. She is looking for additional partners to help scale up the work.