The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded nine fundamental research projects to create new strategies to remediate PFAS in the environment, one of which is based at Stony Brook University’s New York State Center for Clean Water Technology (CCWT). PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are toxic contaminants that are very difficult to treat, and they persist and accumulate in soil, water and living organisms, which can lead to adverse health effects.
Last year, NSF announced a special funding focus on new science and technologies for the treatment and remediation of PFAS to improve and protect public and environmental health called ERASE PFAS. The extreme chemical stability of PFAS is one attribute that has led to their widespread use in food packaging, nonstick pans, stain-repellant fabrics, electronics, fire-fighting foams and many other commercial applications. However, once PFAS enter the environment, that stability becomes a problem. The chemicals are very resistant to degradation, and they are largely impervious to conventional water treatment methods, such as municipal drinking water treatment.
With more than $4.1 million in combined funding, the new research projects will use a variety of approaches to treat PFAS contamination, whether by capturing the chemicals or by breaking their carbon-fluorine bonds to turn PFAS into benign products.
The CCWT project selected for funding — with a total award amount of $400,655 — is “Understanding the surface-active properties of PFAS for enhanced removal by bubbling-assisted water treatment processes,” led by research associate professor Arjun K. Venkatesan, the associate director for drinking water initiatives at CCWT, in collaboration with Distinguished Professor Benjamin Hsiao, Department of Chemistry.
“In this project, we propose a technology that will utilize simple air bubbles to trap PFAS and remove them from water,” explained Venkatesan. “PFAS tend to accumulate at the surface of the air bubbles, and hence through advanced characterization techniques (X-ray synchrotron located at Brookhaven National Laboratory) we will provide the first information about the structure and distribution of these PFAS molecules at the air-water interface (or surface of the bubbles). Once we identify ideal conditions that will increase its accumulation at the bubble surface through controlled experiments, we will develop a reactor that produces nano-micro sized air bubbles to trap PFAS and extract them from contaminated water.”
The proposed approach is extremely simple to apply and will provide great cost benefits to water utilities that seek to upgrade their systems to treat PFAS.