HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State University scientists are using electricity and man-made diamonds to pulverize PFAS from water.
They say the process could eventually be used to clean the likely carcinogen from landfills and wastewater treatment plants, and could be the final step in cleaning it from groundwater used for drinking.
PFAS, which is man-made, has been called the “forever chemical” because it won’t break down naturally and accumulates in bodies. The state has found it at more than 30 sites across Michigan, including Belmont and Parchment, and it has contaminated the public water supplies of more than 1.5 million people, most at low levels.
On Wednesday, MSU Fraunhofer USA Center scientist Cory Rusinek gave a lecture on his project at the MSU Bioeconomy Institute in Holland. He said he started working on the PFAS pulverizer more than a year ago.
“People have been investigating this at very small scales for a number of years. It’s just that we’re trying to take it to a larger scale,” Rusinek said.
He said the process involves pumping electricity through diamond electrodes and into the contaminated water. The tiny diamonds, which are grown at MSU, form a film that’s combined with boron gas to conduct electricity. The process breaks down PFAS into its basic elements.
“You’re essentially mineralizing it into its components,” Rusinek said. “With respect to PFAS, that’s CO2, that’s water and that’s fluoride ions.”
That would eliminate the PFAS health threat.
Rusinek said he has tested the process on fish-tank-sized samples of PFAS water and it worked.
“We are at what we call the laboratory scale, or some people would call the small pilot scale,” he said.
Now he’s trying to get the money, including from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to go big. He said it could several years to put it to use.
Rusinek said this process would work on high concentrations of PFAS at landfills and wastewater treatment plants. It could also be used as the final step in cleaning groundwater, like Wolverine Worldwide’s PFAS plumes around Belmont and Rockford.
Rick Rediske, the Grand Valley State University professor who helped uncover Wolverine’s PFAS mess, was at Wednesday’s lecture to learn more about the process.
“I’m really excited about any technology that destroys PFAS,” he said. “It’s not like activated carbon that pulls it out, then we have to destroy it.”
In Oscoda Township, at the Wurtsmith Air Force Base, the military is using massive carbon filters to suck PFAS from groundwater. The PFAS is later burned out of the carbon, but it’s not destroyed. That would be left up to the PFAS pulverizer.
“You’re not just moving it around,” Rusinek said. “You’re taking it out of the water, then you’re destroying it.”