Denmark Experiment Aims to Eradicate Persistent PFAS Pollutants

bridge stretching out over water in denmark

Over Troubled Waters: Denmark's Pioneering Steps in Eradicating Toxic PFAS (Photo by Peter Herrmann on Unsplash)

by | May 27, 2024

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In Denmark, an innovative experiment is underway to combat the pervasive threat of forever chemicals. PFAS have been widely used since the 1940s in thousands of products and across every industry, with their persistent nature causing widespread contamination globally. At an underground reservoir near Korsør, researchers are testing a promising technology designed to eradicate these toxic substances from the environment.

PFAS contamination in the Korsør reservoir resulted from runoff linked to firefighting training exercises. These chemicals are highly resistant to natural degradation, posing severe health risks, including cancer and immune-system disorders. Professor Francesco Dondero of the University of Eastern Piedmont leads the SCENARIOS project, which aims to enhance PFAS detection and removal across Europe. The project, running through October 2025, developed the technology being tested in Korsør, demonstrating potential for broader application.

Innovative Techniques for PFAS Removal

The research team, in collaboration with the Swedish company Envytech Solutions, is utilizing a method known as Surface Active Foam Fractionation (SAFF). This technique employs air bubbles to extract PFAS from contaminated water. By pumping and treating water from the aquifer into a tank and introducing air at the bottom, the bubbles attract PFAS molecules, bringing them to the surface. This process can increase PFAS concentrations by a factor of 100,000, significantly enhancing the efficiency of removal.

Initial results from the demonstration, which began in February 2024, are promising. In some cases, the SAFF system has successfully removed over 99% of the contamination. Researchers are also exploring additional substances to improve the process, particularly for short-chain PFAS, which are more challenging to eliminate. The next phase involves finding safe methods to destroy the concentrated PFAS waste, with storage as a temporary solution until destruction technology is developed.

Developing Sustainable Alternatives

The SCENARIOS project is part of a broader effort to support the European Green Deal and the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan. This strategy aims to reduce dangerous pollutant concentrations in air, soil, and water by 2050. As part of this initiative, PFAS should be phased out unless their use is deemed essential. However, finding non-toxic, degradable, and affordable replacements for PFAS presents a significant challenge.

Dr. Miika Nikinmaa, a biomaterials researcher at the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland, leads the EU-funded ZeroF project, which focuses on developing safe and sustainable alternatives to PFAS for food packaging and upholstery. The project is experimenting with fatty acid modified cellulose and innovative coating methods to achieve the desired properties of resistance to water and oil. While success has been achieved in creating the water-barrier function, the oil barrier remains a challenge, particularly in combining both properties simultaneously.

For textiles and upholstery, researchers are testing ORMOCER, an organic-inorganic polymer developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research. This material, when combined with various coatings, can closely replicate the properties of PFAS. By the end of the project, the team hopes to develop and test alternatives that are no more than 20% more costly than current PFAS solutions. However, Nikinmaa emphasizes that achieving widespread replacement of PFAS will require significant legislative support to enforce stricter prohibitions and encourage the industry to adopt these new technologies.

The ongoing efforts to address PFAS contamination highlight the critical need for innovative solutions and strong regulatory frameworks. Projects like SCENARIOS and ZeroF are paving the way for more effective detection, removal, and replacement of these harmful chemicals. As researchers continue to develop and refine these technologies, collaboration between industry, academia, and policymakers will be essential to achieve a safer and more sustainable future.

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