ARC awards UON $1.5m to develop PFAS remediation solutions

Monday, 13 August 2018

The University of Newcastle has received $1.5m in Australian Research Council (ARC) funding for two of nine national research projects that will focus on developing ground-breaking initiatives to address PFAS contamination in the environment.

ARC project funding

The new ARC initiative, the PFAS Remediation Research Program, aims to facilitate the development of innovative technologies to investigate and remediate PFAS contaminated media including soil and other solid contaminated debris, groundwater, waterways and marine systems.

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are manufactured chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water and have been used in Australia and around the world in many common household products and specialty applications. The release of PFAS into the environment has become a concern, as chemicals can persist in humans, animals and the environment.

Professor Eric Kennedy from the University’s School of Engineering was awarded $940,000 project funding and Professor Megh Mallavarapu of the University’s Global Centre for Environmental Remediation received $650,000.

Professor Eric Kennedy and his team will investigate the thermal decomposition of per- and polyfluroalkyl substances (PFAS).

“This fundamental, mechanistic insight into the fate of these compounds during thermal decomposition will underpin the development of a new technology aimed specifically at treating materials, which have been contaminated with or have been used as absorbents for PFAS,” Professor Kennedy said.

“The project will focus on the catalytic destruction of PFAS reactions at elevated temperatures, where we hypothesise that we can transform PFAS in a controlled and predictable way into benign products. It seems that this approach has not been widely considered due to misconceptions with respect to the mechanism of thermal decomposition of these species.”

Professor Megh Mallavarapu and his team will investigate ways to remediate sites affected by the application of biosolids, contaminated by PFAS.

“Biosolids generated during waste water treatment carry an unknown potential risk of soil and groundwater PFAS contamination through their application in agriculture and rehabilitation sites,” Professor Mallavarapu said.

“Our study will aim to develop novel immobilisation, adsorption or thermal destruction methods for biosolids, soil and groundwater in both current and legacy sites.”

“It is important to ensure biosolids application to agricultural land is an environmentally sustainable solution for Australian farmers and the community.”

The study and developed methods are expected to minimise or eliminate the risks associated with biosolids' PFAS.

Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation, Professor Kevin Hall said Friday's announcement was strong recognition of the world-class research and innovation conducted at UON that focused on critical challenges facing our communities.

"This announcement by the ARC is testament to the exceptional quality of research at the University of Newcastle, and the excellence of our researchers," Professor Hall said.

"The funding will allow our researchers to continue investigating some of the critical challenges facing our world, and seeking the solutions which will make a real difference to our environment and to people’s lives."

The PFAS Remediation Research Program is funded through the ARC Special Research Initiatives (SRI) scheme, which provides funding for new and emerging fields of research and builds capacity in strategically important areas.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.