Innovative ways for removing PFAS in the environment

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment. They have been considered to be emerging contaminants by U.S. EPA and pose potential threat to human health and the environment. PFOA was leached from DuPont waste disposal ponds into the Ohio River, and contaminated drinking water in southeast Ohio. Great Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) became aware of PFOA contamination in the Ohio River in 2005 and found PFOA level at 100 ppt. Animal studies have shown that PFOA may have toxic effect on the immune, liver, and endocrine systems. PFAS can dissolve in water and are highly stable in the environment. Consequently, they resist most conventional chemical and microbial treatment technologies. Scientists from EPA, industry and academic institutions have studied a variety of technologies at lab scale, pilot scale and full scale to remove PFAS from drinking water and wastewater. However, practical and cost-effective methods have not been developed. Therefore, there is a critical need to understand the environmental risks posed by PFAS and develop practical approaches to effectively control PFAS in the Ohio River and Great Lakes.

Diagram of how to remove PFAs in environment

The rationale of this research is cellulose-based biomass would be much more cost effective and practical than activated carbon, commercial anion exchange resin or membrane filtration in removing PFAS from drinking/waste water. We hypothesize that cellulose and lignin-based sawdust can be functionalized into anion exchange resin, which can remove negatively charged PFAS in wastewater and/or drinking water. To verify the hypothesis, we will determine the effect of PFAS chain length and functional group on PFAS removal, design and develop a pilot-scale test for PFAS removal from wastewater; integrate combustion and mineralization for PFAS. The protégé students will work on process design with hand-on experiences in cellulose functionalization, PFAS adsorption kinetics determination, pilot-scale column test and mineralization of PFAS.


Headshot of Maobing Tu

Maobing Tu

Professor, CEAS - Environmental Eng & Science



Our research is centered on the development of cost-effective processes for producing biofuels, chemicals and biomaterials from lignocellulosic biomass. Specifically, we focus on the interface between biochemical engineering and biomass processing chemistry in an integrated biorefinery process. Our research approach is to use a combination of computational study and experimental determination to understand the molecular structure-activity relationship of biomass-derived compounds in the biochemical conversion process.