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Diamond Technology for Cleaning PFAS-contaminated Wastewater

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are recalcitrant compounds that, through bioaccumulation, can cause a number of adverse health issues upon various exposure pathways. PFASs cause endocrine disruption, are potential carcinogens, and have led to birth defects and obesity. These complications have led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish health advisory levels of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). PFAS are manmade chemicals that are found wherever flame retardants, waterproofing or vapor suppressants, and more are used. PFAS can be absorbed through direct contact like drinking, bathing, swimming or indirectly such as eating meat or vegetables that have been exposed to PFAS.  

Roughly 600 sites have been categorized as Fire/Crash/Training areas under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP). Of particular concern are the sites, including Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscada, MI, where the long-term use of aqueous film forming foams (AFFFs) have resulted in groundwater contamination with elevated levels of PFAS. Methods to dismantle PFAS have been tested in futile due to the exceptionally tough chemical structure. As such, the MSU-Fraunhofer team is working towards a viable solution to destroy PFAS in wastewater using electrochemical oxidation (EO) with boron-doped diamond (BDD) electrodes. While a small handful of emerging technologies have shown some potential for effective PFAS remediation, electrochemical treatment approaches in particular have shown exceptional promise. Specifically, BDD electrodes have shown the most promise over the last decade for contaminant degradation with a number of studies showing its ability to degrade PFAS. 

Wastewater treatment is a multi-step process that contains separate measures for removing contaminants or additives to create dischargeable water. An EO system developed by MSU-Fraunhofer has moved to a laboratory scale allowing the facility to remove PFAS from tens of liters of contaminated wastewater. The process itself transforms PFAS from a hazardous material into carbon dioxide, fluoride, and water. As an industry leader in diamond technology, MSU-Fraunhofer’s BDD electrodes prove their worth after hundreds of treatment rounds with little to no wear. MSU-Fraunhofer's combined expertise in diamond fabrication, electrochemistry, and reactor design creates a diverse team of professors, scientists, and students capable of solving an emerging, yet significant issue in water-based PFAS contamination.

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