U.S – A team of scientists at the University of Rochester has achieved a milestone in water treatment technology by developing a novel electrocatalysis method capable of efficiently removing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from water.

 Led by Dr. Astrid M. Müller, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, this innovative approach promises a scalable, cost-effective solution to address the pervasive threat posed by PFAS contamination.

PFAS, commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their persistent nature, have raised significant environmental and health concerns globally.

These chemicals, found in various consumer products like clothing, food packaging, and firefighting foams, have been linked to adverse health effects such as developmental disruptions and cancer. Despite efforts to phase out their use, PFAS continue to contaminate water sources, necessitating advanced remediation techniques.

In their study, the University of Rochester researchers focused on perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a highly toxic PFAS compound that persists in water despite being banned in many regions.

Through their novel electrocatalysis approach, which utilizes nonprecious metals, the team achieved complete defluorination of PFOS in contaminated water—a significant breakthrough in PFAS removal technology.

Science behind the breakthrough

The innovative electrocatalysis method relies on nanocatalysts derived from laser-made nanomaterials.

By employing pulsed laser in liquid synthesis, the researchers could precisely control the surface chemistry of the catalysts—a feat unattainable through conventional wet chemistry methods. Manipulating nanoparticle size through light-matter interaction, coupled with the use of a hydrophilic carbon paper substrate, further optimized the catalyst’s performance.

Key to the success of the approach was the use of lithium hydroxide at high concentrations, which facilitated complete defluorination of PFOS chemicals. Importantly, this method is not only highly effective but also significantly more cost-efficient compared to existing water treatment methods that rely on expensive boron-doped diamond.

The scalability and affordability of the University of Rochester’s electrocatalysis technology mark a paradigm shift in PFAS remediation. Large-scale water treatment, which previously incurred exorbitant costs, can now be achieved at a fraction of the price, making widespread implementation feasible.

Dr. Müller’s future research endeavors will focus on delving deeper into the mechanisms behind lithium hydroxide’s efficacy and exploring alternative, cost-effective materials to further enhance the technology’s efficiency. Additionally, the team aims to extend the method’s applicability to other PFAS compounds of concern, bolstering its utility.

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