The Federal Government has announced new funding for research into PFAS treatment and remediation, as contamination continues to plague communities across the country.
The PFAS Remediation Research Program is a new initiative administered by the Australian Research Council, which aims to encourage the development of technologies to treat PFAS-contaminated environments, including groundwater, waterways and marine systems.
It has so far awarded $8.2 million to nine research projects, including $1.1 million to researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to develop technology capable of treating large quantities of PFAS-contaminated water in a cost-effective way.
Most existing water treatment technologies are unable to remove PFAS effectively, and those that do are prohibitively expensive or only useful for a short time. UNSW researchers are working to provide a solution that is effective, sustainable, non-harmful, economic and scalable.
UNSW Dean of Engineering Professor Mark Hoffman said the research was vital to help address the environmental contamination caused by PFAS.
“The technology our researchers are developing is potentially game-changing in terms of lowering the cost of remediation and its efficacy,” he said.
“This will lead to the cleanup of more PFAS-contaminated areas across the country, ensuring Australians have access to cleaner environments.”
Researchers from the University of Queensland were awarded funding for three projects. They will investigate the remediation of PFAS-contaminated soil using soil washing and immobilisation; using a two-step approach to remove PFAS from urban wastewater; and developing integrated, scalable technology solutions for the removal and destruction of PFAS from a variety of water sources.
The University of Newcastle was also included in the grants. Professor Eric Kennedy received $940,000 to investigate the thermal decomposition of PFAS. He said this would help develop a technology to treat materials that have been contaminated with, or have been used as absorbents for, the chemicals.
“The project will focus on the catalytic destruction of PFAS reactions at elevated temperatures, where we hypothesise we can transform PFAS in a controlled and predictable way into benign products,” Kennedy said.
Professor Megh Mallavarapu, from the University of Newcastle’s Global Centre for Environmental Remediation, will use $650,000 to investigate ways to remediate sites affected by the application of biosolids contaminated with PFAS.
Mallavarapu said this is an important research field as biosolids generated during wastewater treatment carry an unknown potential risk of soil and groundwater PFAS contamination through their use.
“Our study will aim to develop novel immobilisation, adsorption or thermal destruction methods for biosolids, soil and groundwater in both current and legacy sites,” he said.
“It is important to ensure [the application of biosolids] to agricultural land is an environmentally sustainable solution for Australian farmers and the community.”
A second round of PFAS Remediation Research Program funding will be open to eligible organisations in the coming months, inviting new grant applications for funding between $50,000 to $1 million per year for one to three years.