Home Artificial Intelligence The race to destroy PFAS, the eternally chemical substances 

The race to destroy PFAS, the eternally chemical substances 

The race to destroy PFAS, the eternally chemical substances 


The hunt to cut back the quantity of PFAS within the setting is what led me to an industrial park in a southern suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The jar of PFAS focus in my hand is a part of an illustration organized by my hosts, Revive Environmental, throughout a tour of the corporate’s PFAS destruction web site, one of many first within the nation to function commercially and at scale. A number of yards in entrance of me sits the corporate’s PFAS “Annihilator” in a white transport container. 

The Annihilator represents simply one in every of a number of applied sciences now vying to interrupt down and destroy PFAS. These span the gamut from established processes like electrochemical oxidation and supercritical water oxidation to rising methods counting on ultraviolet mild, plasma, ultrasound, or catalyst-driven thermal processes. Some are deployed in discipline checks. Different firms are actively operating pilot applications, many with varied divisions of the US Division of Protection and different authorities companies. And lots of different applied sciences are nonetheless present process laboratory analysis.

There’s good motive for this. Not solely are PFAS in all places round us; they’re additionally in us. People can’t break down PFAS, and our our bodies wrestle to clear them from our programs. Research recommend they’re in my blood and yours—the vast majority of People’, actually—and so they have been linked to elevated dangers of kidney and testicular most cancers, decreased toddler birthweights, and hypertension. And that’s solely what we find out about now: researchers proceed to grapple with the complete impacts of PFAS on human and environmental well being. 

Revive’s Annihilator and different nascent destruction applied sciences present the primary indicators of promise that these “eternally chemical substances” will be faraway from the setting completely, limiting additional human publicity and threat. However destroying PFAS is just one step within the full remediation course of. Throughout the globe, researchers are creating new applied sciences and methods to higher perceive, take a look at, and observe the chemical substances—in addition to figuring out different supplies—to eradicate PFAS for good. 

Breaking it down

PFAS traces again to the mid-Twentieth century, when the chemical large 3M invented PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) to stop nonstick coatings from clumping throughout manufacturing. Finally, 3M started promoting the fabric to fellow chemical firms, together with DuPont, which used the fabric for its then revolutionary coating, Teflon. Later different producers, similar to Chemours and Corteva, would develop and produce their very own manufacturers. The well being impacts of PFAS and extent to which the chemical substances had pervaded the setting wouldn’t be found till the early 2000s, when authorized motion towards DuPont unearthed proof that chemical firms knew a number of the dangers PFAS posed to human well being but deliberately dumped them into waterways and unprotected holding ponds, the place they ultimately made their method into consuming water and other people. 

Although it has been years because the preliminary hazards of PFAS had been made public, scientists and regulators have since struggled with how finest to remediate the contamination and maintain individuals secure. Historically, PFAS are handled by way of customary water filtration strategies: granular activated carbon, reverse osmosis, ion trade resins. These strategies work terribly properly to seize PFAS. The issue is, although, that after captured, the chemical substances don’t go away. The filters are discarded or chemically washed for reuse, and the notoriously clingy PFAS reenter the setting by way of landfills and wastewater. Incineration—one other conventional mitigation method—dangers sending undestroyed PFAS compounds up the smokestack and into the air. All of the whereas, PFAS proceed to be manufactured, used, discarded, and circulated by way of the setting. And so the hunt is on for a strategy to make the eternally chemical substances a bit extra ephemeral.

For the Annihilator, Revive makes use of a destruction technique referred to as supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) to cleave the sturdy carbon fluorine bonds that characterize PFAS compounds. In one other transport container, which serves because the monitoring station for the Annihilator, David Trueba factors to a financial institution of pc screens displaying knowledge from the assorted sensors contained in the destruction machine. Trueba is the president and CEO of Revive and serves as one in every of my guides on the tour. SCWO is actually a PFAS stress cooker, he explains, heating and compressing the contaminated liquid to a supercritical state of above 500 °C and three,200 PSI. In that state, the place water is caught in a form of purgatory between liquid and fuel, oxygen turns into soluble, and the ensuing oxidation drives the response that finally destroys the PFAS. Amongst different purposes, SCWO has been used to decommission and destroy previous stockpiles of mustard fuel, the brutal chemical weapon that plagued the trenches of World Warfare I. Battelle, a nationwide analysis nonprofit, tailored SCWO to focus on PFAS and spun off Revive as a non-public entity with funding from Viking International Traders in January 2023. 



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