Primary Investigator: Alptekin Aksan
Industry Partners: Barr Engineering, 3M
Award Type: Seed Grant - Postdoctoral Research Scholar
Problem: There are more than 9,000 fluorinated chemicals (PFAS) developed for commercial use that contaminate Minnesota waters. Fluorinated chemicals are sometimes described as non-biodegradable, but recent work shows their biodegradation is possible (Huang & Jaffe, 2019; Liu, et al, 2020, and the attached letters of support).
Solution: We will combine bacteria that biodegrade fluorinated compounds provided by the Wackett, Jaffe, and Men laboratories (see letters of support) with silica encapsulation/adsorption technology developed in Aksan laboratory to remove and destroy PFAS chemicals from water. Aksan lab has previously demonstrated the feasibility of combining adsorptive materials with encapsulated biodegradative microorganisms to eliminate carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and s-triazine herbicides from drinking water. Here, we will focus on PFAS compounds using fluorophilic silica gels to concentrate PFAS compounds, which will be degraded by bacteria encapsulated in agarose gels in a reactive filter geometry.
Impact: Fluorinated chemicals are of significant concern due to their negative effects on health, even increasing the severity of COVID-19. Currently, PFAS contamination is treated by adsorption with activated carbon, incineration, landfilling, or degradation by high energy-demand, expensive processes (such as plasma treatment). Minnesota alone is spending nearly $1 billion to remediate these chemicals, largely emanating from legacy issues. As also indicated by our industry collaborators, low energy use techniques such as bioremediation would significantly increase our chances of removing these dangerous compounds from MN waters efficiently.