News: Industry, Industry funded research, Research, SA

Sparc Technologies to clean up PFAS with graphene

Since their creation in the 1940s per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been found not only in water, food, plants, and animals, but also in the human body.

Exposure to PFAS, even at very low concentrations, can lead to adverse health effects including reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney and immunological damage.

Despite this known risk PFAS are still used widely in industrial and commercial applications from fire-retardants and fire-fighting foams, wetting agents, lubricants, and corrosion inhibitors, to cosmetics, packaging, and cookware. While steps have been taken to reduce PFAS usage, such as the US banning its manufacture, there is still significant environmental contamination caused by their use over the last 70 years.

PFAS are a particularly persistent contaminant in soils and water. New materials are needed that can adsorb the contaminants with minimal impact on the surrounding environment. Graphene, a modern material made of atomically thin carbon sheets, and a range of incredible properties, could provide a solution.

A University of Adelaide research team lead by Profs Dusan Losic and Mike McLaughlin, part of the ARC Research Hub for Graphene Enabled Industry Transformation, has partnered with local graphene technology company Sparc Technologies (ASX: SPN), to develop a new graphene-based adsorbent. The product has outperformed currently available activated carbon adsorbents when tested on PFAS-contaminated soils and water.

Scanning and transmission electron microscopy at Microscopy Australia’s University of Adelaide Facility were used extensively to study the surface structures of these graphene-based adsorbents. In particular, it was used to examine the effect of adding compounds that significantly increased the porosity and surface area of the graphene with a corresponding increase in the amount of PFAS it could adsorb. The first kg batch of this product will be evaluated at a pilot PFAS soil remediation trial with Australian remediation company JBSG.

The ARC Research Hub for Graphene Enabled Industry Transformation continues to work actively with industry partners and leading Australian graphene companies to develop graphene-based solutions and products for energy production, batteries, membranes for drinking water filtration, protective coatings, fire retardants and environmental remediation.

Field emission scanning electron microscope image of functionalized graphene materials for environmental remediation.