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Quebec team studies new class of electrodes to degrade PFAS in water

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A new research project team in Quebec hopes to create innovative solutions to decontaminate waters containing harmful chemical compounds like perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS.

Professors at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) say they will be using nanomaterials to develop better electro-catalytic processes to degrade the chemicals in water. The electrochemical reactions research will be funded through a $338,688 grant from the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation under PRIMA Quebec.

PFAS are man-made chemicals found in food packaging like microwave popcorn bags, firefighting foam, stain, oil and water repellent chemicals, and have been linked to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.

INRS professors Patrick Drogui and My Ali El Khakani will be joined by Université de Montréal professor Sébastien Sauvé, who will monitor and analyze the chemical degradation.

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“The chemistry of PFAS compounds is complex,” said Sauvé in a statement. “High-resolution mass spectrometry tools are needed to properly identify and measure the hundreds of chemical forms that this family of compounds can take and to properly evaluate the effectiveness of decontamination processes,” he adds.

El Khakani is an expert in nanostructured materials, while Drogui specializes in electrotechnology and water treatment. The two recently worked on a similar project, where they degraded pesticide-polluted water (Atrazine) using engineered nanomaterial.

“We will use our 25 years of experience and know-how in this field to develop a new class of electrodes based on metal oxides,”  El Khakani said in a statement about the new PFAS reduction project. “These will offer unmatched specific surfaces while preserving excellent electrical conductivity and chemical stability,” he added.

Drogui stated that advanced electro-catalytic processes have “great potential to decontaminate waters” by removing persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as PFAS.

The new research is being conducted in close collaboration with two industrial partners, SANEXEN and Rio Tinto Fer et Titane.

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