Developing technology to remove ‘forever chemicals’ from water


Engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have been awarded more than $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Water Initiative to build a system that selectively removes and destroys poly- and fluorinated substances, commonly known as PFAS and the so-called “permanent chemicals.” ” from industrial and municipal wastewater. PFAS are synthetic chemicals found in many common materials, and the grant will support the team’s work for three years.

Due to the widespread use of industrial sites, fertilizers, and commercial products that end up in landfills, PFAS seep into groundwater and drinking water supplies. Unfortunately, these ubiquitous “forever chemicals” do not break down in the body and have been linked to health problems in humans and animals. Evidence shows that low levels of compounds can lead to high cholesterol and cancer, and have effects on the reproductive and immune systems and the thyroid.

A UIC team led by chemical engineering professor Brian Chaplin will develop a prototype of their system and deploy it for expansion and pilot testing at California’s Orange County Water District at the end of the three-year grant. In the county, frequent droughts mean the utility is investing in new technology to recycle and recharge the county’s troubled drinking water supply.

The Chaplin system works through a treatment process called reactive electrochemical membrane filtration. As the water passes through the REM system, the adsorbents and catalysts on the straw trap and destroy the PFAS respectively.

With the funding, the UIC team will design, refine, develop and optimize efficient electrocatalysts so that the system can be successful in removing and specifically destroying PFAS at high levels with low energy consumption. It also analyzes other systems for comparison and best practices in broad practical, real-world applications of the technology.

“While REM filtration is one of the only ways to destroy PFAS, these systems work best so far under certain controlled conditions. Our challenge is to make these systems work in the environment,” said Chaplin. “When we complete this work, this new technology will be ready for testing in the industrial and municipal wastewater sectors.

Chaplin hopes that the development of new catalyst materials will enable the system to successfully remove PFAS with a connection time of two minutes and a conversion rate of less than 10 kilowatt-hours, which is an order of magnitude less than others. Destructive technologies.

“PFAS contamination is a widespread problem in our industrial society, and unless we find successful ways to eliminate these chemicals forever, the potential health problems that can occur as the substance accumulates in the environment will continue to grow,” Chaplin said.

Working with Chaplin on the project are Sangil Kim, associate professor of chemical engineering; Ahmed Abokifa, assistant professor of civil, materials and environmental engineering; And scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, Purdue University and other industrial partners, also received financial support for the project.

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