On a rainy February day in Columbus, Ohio, Battelle’s PFAS ANNIHILATORTM Mobile Unit was loaded onto a flatbed trailer bound for its first-ever field demonstration in Michigan. Inside, technology representing millions of dollars and a decade of research and development waited to show the world that Battelle has invented a solution to confront a generational problem in America—how to destroy a family of chemicals designed to be indestructible.
Setting the Stage
Once inside the hulking, World War II era industrial complex operated by Heritage-Crystal Clean, Battelle’s team began to assemble the pieces. Julia Stowe, Environmental Engineer, Mark Reyes, Master Technician, Vivek Lal, Chemical Engineer, and Steve Rosansky, Principal Investigator each had a role. The PFAS ANNIHILATOR™ is designed to destroy a group of chemicals called per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have been around since the 1940s. Originally designed as an armor coating, PFAS have been adapted for use in a wide array of consumer and industrial products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant textiles, paint, metal plating, food packaging, and firefighting foams because they resist high temperatures, oil, stains, grease and water and are friction reducing.
These chemicals are useful for their characteristics and famed for their ultra-strong carbon-fluorine bond, one of the strongest in organic chemistry. These ultra-strong properties also make PFAS extremely difficult to remove from the environment and living things including our bodies. There has been a widespread environmental impact from PFAS, and limited regulatory frameworks are in place to slow this momentum.
PFAS ANNIHILATOR™ First Deployment at Heritage Crystal-Clean Site
A PFAS Solution Like No Other
While federal and state agencies and the scientific community continue to grapple with critical questions about PFAS, Battelle has taken the lead on researching and developing real-life solutions. Battelle has developed credible approaches to identifying the chemicals in the environment, predicting where they will go and where they came from and developing methods for destroying them completely. Other technologies for treating PFAS-contaminated water only provide temporary PFAS decontamination, require incineration or landfilling for final deposition of PFAS and generate secondary waste. Battelle’s PFAS Annihilator™ is an on-site destruction solution that has demonstrated destruction at the lowest levels of detection, which mitigates concerns with meeting future regulatory limits that are currently unknown.
How Does PFAS ANNIHILATOR™ Work?
Inside the PFAS ANNIHILATOR™, pumps draw the contaminated wastewater into the system where it is mixed with hydrogen peroxide, isopropanol as a co-fuel and sodium hydroxide as a neutralizing agent. A heat exchanger precedes a furnace that removes the salts, then the water goes into the reactor at a designed temperature and pressure to break the carbon-fluorine bond. The resulting output is carbon dioxide and hydrofluoric acid which is neutralized with sodium hydroxide which turns it into inert salts, so it doesn’t create harmful byproducts. In trials of more than 30 PFAS-contaminated sample types, it consistently demonstrates more than 99.99% destruction of total PFAS.
Heritage-Crystal Clean, one of America’s largest environmental service providers, has long been searching for a solution to its customers’ PFAS disposal problems. During the weeklong demonstration at one of Heritage-Crystal Clean’s facilities, the PFAS Annihilator™ successfully destroyed PFAS (and other organics) in representative samples of 16 gallons of landfill leachate and validated the technology’s efficacy. The next iteration of the mobile unit currently under construction will include increased capacity for the reactor and throughput, as well as automate processes so it can operate without manual intervention.
In this pilot we saw the Battelle PFAS ANNIHILATOR™ demonstrate the ability to reduce total PFAS in landfill leachate to single digit concentrations with no adverse byproducts in the treated water," said Amy Dindal, Battelle PFAS Program Manager. “We’ve successfully demonstrated this technology can be brought to a facility that processes waste materials, set-up in a few hours and destroy PFAS chemicals in the presence of other co-contaminants. We are invigorated in our intent to bring this game-changing technology to scale and expand it to meet the growing need around the country."
Landfill Leachate at HCC Before Processing through Battelle PFAS Annihilator™
Applications of PFAS ANNIHILATOR™
Because there are so many different versions of PFAS, every contamination is different. In addition to landfill leachate, Battelle’s PFAS ANNIHILATOR™ is designed to deal with them all, from industrial wastewater to contaminated groundwater. Still another challenge is firefighting foam stockpiles, which contain high amounts of PFAS. Current guidelines call for these foams not to be used and to be stored, which means the ANNIHILATOR™ could be extremely useful for disposal.
Dozens of engineers and scientists worked on a bench-scale version of the PFAS ANNIHILATOR™ for the past few years, and the Michigan demonstration was the next step toward a version that can go to contaminated sites and destroy PFAS in contaminated water. “This technology aligns with Battelle’s original core mission of using science in service to society,” said Dindal. “Destroying these chemicals is so difficult. This is revolutionary because not only does it destroy PFAS, it can do it on-site at the contamination source.”