Breakthrough in treating PFAS groundwater contamination

OPEC Systems Pty Ltd

Tuesday, 03 October, 2017

Fire fighting foam image

Scientists at OPEC Systems, in collaboration with the Australian Department of Defence, have developed new technology that is said to provide a breakthrough for communities experiencing PFAS groundwater contamination.

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are organic pollutants of concern found in groundwater beneath fire training grounds where a particular type of now-discontinued firefighting foam was used. As noted by OPEC Environmental Division Manager Steve Phillips, PFAS has “unique properties that make it difficult to remediate”; for example, many PFAS compounds are highly mobile and do not degrade in the natural environment.

Now, following several years of research, OPEC Systems has come up with a solution called Downhole Foam Fractionation (DFF) — an approach which “relies on the inherent physiochemical characteristics of the PFAS compounds to remove them from water”, according to Phillips, and “allows us to do this in alignment with the principles of green chemistry”.

DFF involves the installation of purpose-designed and strategically positioned groundwater wells at affected sites, and the creation of bubble columns within the wells which ‘foam out’ the PFAS compounds. The DFF system scavenges the PFAS contaminants within the foam, and a foam harvesting system is used to remove the PFAS-rich concentrate from the wells, where it is further refined before being taken off-site and subsequently destroyed at a certified waste destruction facility.

“DFF is a simple, clean and cost-effective innovation that causes zero environmental harm,” said Phillips. “We simply put air in and take PFAS out.”

The technology has been found to effectively isolate and remove longer chain PFAS substances from affected sites, with testing results showing the removal of more than 99% of PFAS within minutes. “In fact,” said Phillips, “when the initial test results came back, we assumed they must be incorrect. We retested and were astounded with the implications.

“This is a pivotal moment for PFAS-affected communities, with our technology having the potential to successfully remediate thousands of PFAS groundwater contaminated sites both in Australia and worldwide,” said Phillips. “We’re very proud to bring DFF to the market.”

Image caption: A firefighter using a foam-based fire retardant (supplied).

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