Thursday, 06 June 2019 05:24

Flinders, UniSA develop solution to clean up PFAS pollution

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Dr Justin Chalker and Nicholas Lundquist examine a field sample. Dr Justin Chalker and Nicholas Lundquist examine a field sample. Supplied

Researchers from Flinders University, in collaboration with the University of South Australia, claim to have developed a new absorbent polymer, made from waste cooking oil, sulphur and powdered activated carbon, that will help clean up toxic polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).

In a statement, Flinders said its Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology had worked to create a solution that was low-cost, safe and environmentally friendly. PFAS are commonly used in non-stick and protective coatings, lubricants and fire-fighting foam used in the aviation industry.

PFAS pollution does not break down and there has been extensive use of fire-fighting foams containing PFAS at airports and defence sites, causing contaminated ground water and surface water.

The statement said the new polymer adhered to carbon in a way that prevented caking during water filtration. It is claimed to work faster at PFAS uptake than the common, more expensive granular activated carbon method. It is also claimed to lower the amount of dust generated.

“We need safe, low-cost and versatile methods for removing PFAS from water, and our polymer-carbon blend is a promising step in this direction,” said Flinders University’s Dr Justin Chalker, co-director of the study.

“The next stage for us is to test this sorbent on a commercial scale and demonstrate its ability to purify thousands of litres of water. We are also investigating methods to recycle the sorbent and destroy the PFAS.”

The statement said the team had demonstrated the effectiveness of the polymer-carbon blend by purifying surface water close to a RAAF airbase.

It was able to reduce the PFAS content from 150 parts per trillion (ppt) to less than 23 ppt, well below the 70 ppt limit for PFAS in drinking water issued by the Australian Department of Health.

“Our canola oil polysulfide was found to be highly effective as a support material for powdered activated carbon, enhancing its efficiency and prospects for implementation,” said Nicholas Lundquist, doctoral candidate at Flinders University and the lead in the study along with research fellow Dr Martin Sweetman of UniSA.

Other key contributors were current and former members of The Flinders University Institute for NanoScale Science and technology including Kymberley Scroggie, Max Worthington, Dr Louisa Esdaile, and Salah Alboaiji.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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