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Deakin researchers have been awarded funding for an ARC Special Research Initiative – the PFAS Remediation Research Program.
Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals used since the 1950s in firefighting foams and common household products like nonstick cookware, fabric and carpet stain protection applications.
Research into the chemical has revealed it can seep into the ground, contaminating soil and ground water. PFAS in firefighting foams has caused the non-decomposing chemical to build up over time and accumulate in neighbouring lands, water bodies and plants and animals that have come into contact with the substance.
Potential contamination of neighbouring properties and water supplies by PFAS run-off from the Tindal Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base in the Northern Territory and the Williamtown base in NSW has prompted the Australian government to offer a $5.7 million support package to help those affected, while the US Environmental Protection Agency has linked PFAS to “reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals.”
Dr Will Gates from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) said it was no surprise “a chemical type that is so resistant to breakdown in the environment would be found to be correlated to numerous health issues.”
Dr Gates will lead the Australian Research Council (ARC) PFAS Remediation Research Program project, “Holistic Remediation of PFAS-affected Soils, Waters and Debris” with fellow IFM researcher Professor Frank Collins and Dr Damien Callahan from Deakin’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment.
Working with industry partners the Remediation Group Pty Ltd and the Renex Group, the Deakin team hope to provide a holistic waste-to-resource remediation strategy for PFAS contamination, improve the efficiency of remediation strategies for PFAS contaminated sites, and create new materials from combinations of waste streams.
Using Renex’s pre-existing kiln system, the Deakin team plan to heat PFAS-affected liquid and solid wastes to achieve high temperature destruction of the substance. By using this method, the quantity of PFAS impacted wastes that can be treated is expected be as high as 10 tonnes per hour.
“This, in turn, will reduce the levels of PFAS in soils and waters and hopefully start to develop more environmentally friendly building materials from the calcined soils,” Dr Gates said.
“We hope to produce useful, value-added resources from wastes that would otherwise end up in landfill.
“We want to enable, through science and engineering, emerging Victorian businesses to achieve their goals of developing a waste-to-resource and, eventually, a waste-to-energy industry.”
Dr Gates is also working closely with Professor Collins to develop the Australian Centre for Infrastructure Durability (ACID) at IFM. ACID will work on the creation of durable and resilient infrastructure and improve cement and concrete durability to reduce the overall quantity of concrete required in infrastructure.
“By offsetting some cement, the Supplementary Cementitious Material (SCM) will reduce the overall carbon footprint of cement and concrete manufacture by as much as 10 to15 per cent and, in a world where trillions of tonnes of concrete are used, this is not insignificant,” Dr Gates said.
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Deakin researchers are working on ways to reduce the environmental impact of chemicals found in firefighting foams.