Engineers at the University of Illinois, Chicago have been awarded just over $1 million from the US Department of Energy’s National Alliance for Water Innovation to build a system that selectively removes and destroys poly- and perfluorinated substances, commonly called PFAS, from industrial and municipal wastewater.
PFAS seep into groundwater and drinking water supplies from a wide range of industrial settings, as well as sources such as fertilizers and a range of products that wind up in landfillls.
The UIC team will develop a prototype of their system and, at the end of the three-year funding, deploy it for scale-up and pilot testing in California’s Orange County Water District.
The system works through a treatment process called reactive electrochemical membrane filtration. As the water passes through the REM system, adsorbents and catalysts on the membrane trap and destroy PFAS.
With the funding, the UIC team will develop, screen, characterize and optimize efficient electrocatalysts so that the system is successful at removing and, notably, destroying PFAS at high levels with low energy consumption. They will also analyze other systems for comparison and best practices in deploying the technology at a large scale in practical, real-world applications.
“While REM filtration is one of the only ways to destroy PFAS, these systems so far work best in a limited number of controlled conditions. Our challenge is to make these systems work in the environment,” said team leader Brian Chaplin. “When we complete this work, this new technology will be ready to be piloted in the industrial and municipal wastewater sectors, which will help us and other practitioners evaluate its impact on facilitating desalination and recycling of nontraditional water streams.”
Chaplin hopes the development of new catalyst materials will operationalize the system for successful destructive removal of PFAS in under two minutes of contact time and with a conversion rate of less than 10 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter, which is an order of magnitude lower than other destructive technologies.