Texas A&M Researchers Develop Bioremediation Material to Remove PFAS

This sustainable, lower-cost method for removing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances has potential for commercial applications

A novel bioremediation technology for cleaning up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been developed by Texas A&M AgriLife researchers. The material has potential for commercial application for disposing of PFAS.

Published July 28 in Nature Communications, the research was a collaboration of Susie Dai, associate professor in the Texas A&M Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, and Joshua Yuan, chair and professor in Washington University in St. Louis Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, formerly with the Texas A&M Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology.

A grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and support from Texas A&M AgriLife funded the work.

“PFAS do not degrade easily in the environment and are toxic even at trace level concentrations,” says Dai. “They must be removed and destroyed to prevent human exposure and negative impacts on the ecosystem.

“PFAS are so stable because they are composed of a chain of carbon and fluorine atoms linked together, and the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest chemical bonds. They can occur in water at a very low concentration and you have to concentrate them and then destroy them.”

The current way to destroy them is to burn them — an expensive multistep process. Commercial products such as active carbon are used as a clean-up material to adsorb the PFAS compounds. The material is then sent to be incinerated.

Dai and Yuan developed a technique of using a plant-derived material to adsorb the PFAS and dispose of them with microbial fungi that literally eat the “forever chemicals.”

“We produced a sustainable plant material that could be used to concentrate the PFAS chemicals,” says Dai.

“The plant’s cell wall material serves as a framework to adsorb the PFAS,” she says. “Then this material and the adsorbed chemical serve as food for a microbial fungus. The fungus eats it, it’s gone, and you don’t have the disposal problem. Basically, the fungus is doing the detoxification process.”

This is a sustainable treatment system with a powerful potential to remove harmful chemicals to protect human health and the ecosystem in a non-toxic, more cost-effective way, according to Dai.


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