Tackling PFAS ‘Uncharted Territory’ for Global Water Industry

Feb 01, 2021

The impact of emerging contaminants, and in particular polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS’), on watercourses and public health was the theme of the latest Water Action Platform webinar, which took place on 21 January 2021.

“We are in uncharted territory: trying to find contaminants which may not yet have regulations controlling them,” says Carol Walczyk, vice president for water quality and compliance at Suez North America.

The event explored research and technologies addressing PFAS chemicals, man-made compounds found in many consumer products, in particular fabrics, cleaning products, paints and fire-fighting foams. Their ability to remain intact for long periods of time means that PFAS levels can build up significantly in the environment.

“We are still learning about the potential health effects caused by the bioaccumulation of certain PFAS chemicals in our bodies,” said Isle chairman Dr Piers Clark who hosted the open event, “but the evidence gathered to date suggests it can cause serious health conditions. As a water sector we need to be aware of this issue, and proactively respond to address it.”

Uncharted territory

Carol Walczyk, vice president for water quality and compliance at Suez North America, spoke as a sector expert about the challenges and opportunities of tackling new and unknown pollutants entering waterways.

“We need to do this work to build a reliable and robust picture of the risks, so we can respond appropriately,” she said. “This is not easy, and it’s not cheap. Most importantly, it is not something individual utilities can do alone. We must share our learning and experiences so that everyone across the water sector can benefit.”

Isle has recently completed a project identifying early-stage and emerging solutions that not only look at treatment and removal, but also destruction.

To find out more about this project, or to get involved, please get in touch via Isle Contact.
Three technologies revealed

The focus stayed on emerging pollutants during the during the webinar’s technology showcase, which featured three innovations. These comprised a world-leading innovative ceramic flat-sheet membrane; a low-energy, enzymatic filtration system and a new catalytic process that mimics the natural defence process of the human body.

The first, Cerafiltec from Germany, is arguably the most innovative ceramic flat-sheet membrane module in the world.

“The key thing here is that ceramic flat-sheet membranes have so much more to offer than conventional UF [ultrafiltration] membranes,” explained Cerafiltec chief executive Julius Gloeckner. “For example, they allow for the combination of adsorption and filtration in one step, enabling the selective removal dissolved contaminations, such as PFAS.”

Cerafiltec has demonstrated its membranes can remove PFAS to below detectible limits, from 2,000ppt in the feedwater.

“Currently there is about 600ml/day of capacity installed using ceramic flat-sheet membranes where this adsorption process could be applied. The process yields significant techno-commercial advantages,” added Gloeckner.

The next technology to be presented was from Pharem, from Sweden, which produces a low-energy, enzymatic filtration system specifically designed for removing organic micropollutants such as pharmaceutical residues.

“This technology can be integrated into existing treatment plants. The system is gravity-fed and can be fully functional with little to no electricity input, primarily because the enzymes do not require additional energy,” explained founder and chief executive Martin Ryen.

The Pharem Filtration System has been demonstrated on over 500 different contaminants, with removal rates from 66 – 95 percent.  Pharem is currently collaborating with Swedish cleantech company Malmberg for installation in the Nordics and is open to working with others on trials for either pharmaceutical compounds and/or carbon-chloride compounds.

Finally, an Australian company, Infinite Water, has developed Hydroxon, a catalytic advanced oxidation process to remove metals, dissolved organics and other refractory toxic or non-biodegradable compounds.

Joshua Pinto, sales director explains more: “The idea for the Hydroxon process initially came from looking at the defence process the human body uses against microbes. Humans have special defence cells which detect, encapsulate and destroy – with an oxidation package – any intruding bacteria.”

Like Pharem, Hydroxon is a low-energy solution. The manufacturer states that the total energy consumption of a Hydroxon unit is less than 0.1 kWh/m³ and it can replace several processes in a conventional treatment train.

Infinite Water has pilots and commercial installations with water utilities and various industries - agriculture, food & beverage, printing & packaging and mining, in Australia, New Zealand, China and Bangladesh. In addition, Isle has carried out collaborative trials on Hydroxon with four Australian utilities.

The next Water Action Platform open webinar takes place on Thursday 18 February.


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Isle Utilities

Louise Elliott

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