Historical use of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) results in their widespread occurrence in natural waters. Separation technologies, such as ion exchange resin (IXR) adsorption and foam fraction (FF), have been shown to be effective for removing PFAS from water and are currently used to manage PFAS-impacted waters. These separation technologies concentrate PFAS but do not destroy them; therefore it is beneficial to couple them with a destructive treatment such as electrochemical oxidation (EO), which has been shown to effectively degrade PFAS via direct electron transfer and indirect free radical reactions.

The objective of Phase I of this project was to demonstrate the degradation of perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) by EO with titanium suboxide anodes (TSO). EO is primarily an interfacial process with reactions occurring at the anode surface, and thus its efficiency is dependent on PFAS concentrations. Therefore, coupling EO in a treatment train with a separation/concentration technology allows for the destruction of PFAS in a highly concentrated stream of reduced volume.

The objective of Phase II of this project is to build upon Phase I results to provide a basis for the design and optimization of IXR-EO and FF-EO treatment trains for PFAS. Phase II will investigate fluorine mass balance, the reuse of EO-treated still bottoms for IXR regeneration, the optimized coupling between EO and FF, and on-site methods of chlorate and perchlorate management.

Technical Approach

In Phase I of this project, the feasibility of an IXR-EO treatment train was demonstrated by TSO-based EO treatment for destroying PFAS in the concentrated wastes, also known as still bottoms, resulting from regeneration of spent IXR used for PFAS-impacted waters. The energy efficiency of the IXR-EO treatment train is favorable because the EO process treats very concentrated solutions of high PFAS concentrations and reduced volumes. Such favorable energy efficiency is also applicable to other concentration-destruction treatment trains, such as FF-EO.

In Phase II of this project, a comprehensive study is planned to further evaluate the performance of TSO-based EO in degrading a wide range of PFAS in still bottoms and FF concentrates under various operational conditions. Task 1 will further explore the fate of PFAS during EO treatment of still bottoms, particularly examining the mass balance of fluorine in the EO treatment system. Task 2 will involve a set of laboratory experiments to examine the feasibility of recycling EO-treated still bottoms to regenerate PFAS-loaded IXR columns. Task 3 will examine the use of TSO-based EO treatment to destroy PFAS in the concentrates resulting from FF treatment of groundwater and wastewater. Task 4 will evaluate methods that can be used on-site to manage chlorate and perchlorate that may be formed during EO treatment.


Phase I Results

In Phase I, EO treatment of still bottoms samples resulted in effective degradation of PFAA. EO treatment of a still bottoms sample at 10 mA/cm2 for 200 h led to a total of 98.1% removal of all 10 monitored PFAA. The removal of PFOA, PFOS, PFBA, PFBS, PFPeA, PFPeS, PFHxA, PFPeS, PFHpA, PFHxS reached 98.7%, 96.5%, 86.8%, 99.7%, 99.90%, 99.9%, 97.1%, 99.9%, 99.9%, 98.9%, respectively (Figure 1). The color of the still bottoms sample turned from brown to clear after 200 h treatment (Figure 2). The electrical energy required to reduce the concentration by one order of magnitude (EE/O) was calculated based on total PFAS to be 2,313 kWh·m-3. The still bottoms sample was generated by a volume reduction of over 21,000 times from the volume of the groundwater treated by the IXR process. Therefore, EE/O adjusted to the water volume treated by the IXR-EO treatment train was about 0.11 kWh·m-3. The results demonstrated the promise of coupling regenerable IXR technology and EO for removing PFAS from water and destroying them onsite.


Figure 1. PFAA Concentrations Over 200 Hours of EO Treatment of Still Bottoms Samples at 10 mA/cm2 (Left) 
Figure 2. Still Bottoms Sample at 0 Hr Treatment (Left) and 200 Hr Treatment (Right)


A treatment train coupling a separation/concentration technology and a destruction technology provides a complete solution to manage PFAS-impacted waters and can offer improved energy efficiency. The results of this project are expected to provide critical information needed for the design and optimization of an IXR-EO or FF-EO treatment train for removal and degradation of PFAS in water. These novel treatment trains will provide useful methods to manage PFAS at Department of Defense sites and may be used as alternative technologies to treat PFAS-containing wastewater. (Anticipated Phase II Completion - 2027)


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