Researchers at The University of Queensland have pioneered a simple, fast and effective technique to remove PFAS chemicals from water.

Using a magnet and a reusable absorption aid developed by polymer chemist Dr Cheng Zhang and PhD candidate Xiao Tan have cleared 95 per cent of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from a small amount of contaminated water in under a minute.

“Removing PFAS chemicals from contaminated waters is urgently needed to safeguard public and environmental health,” Dr Cheng Zhang said, “but existing methods require machinery-like pumps which take a lot of time and need their own power source.

“Our method shows it is possible to remove more of these chemicals in a way that is faster, cheaper, cleaner, and very simple.

“Further, because our process does not need electricity, it can be used in remote and off-grid communities.”

PFAS substances are synthetic compounds that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1950s, but persist in the environment and potentially lead to human health problems.

The PFAS removal technique developed by Dr Zhang and Mr Tan involves treating contaminated water with a new solution, called a magnetic fluorinated polymer sorbent.

“This solution coats the PFAS particles and then we can use a magnet to attract, isolate and remove them,” Dr Zhang said.

“The solution can also be reused up to 10 times.”

“Our team will now scale-up the testing and we hope to have a commercially available product ready in the next three years.”

The study has been published in Angewandte Chemie.

The work has been funded by the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, The Chemours Company and the US Department of Defense, and was overseen by AIBN head of research Professor Andrew Whittaker.