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  • by Trevor Loveday

Researchers find diamonds are forever chemicals' nemesis

Researchers at University of Surrey have reported “a really exciting result” in their work to develop a means to break down long-lasting chemical pollutants in the environment dubbed forever chemicals.

The team at the university’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering has completed a preliminary study used an existing electrolytic method to break up short-chain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The treatment method uses electrodes comprising boron-doped diamond that beak up the carbon-fluorine bonds in PFAS molecules. It is a proprietary electrochemical treatment developed by a subsidiary of the international diamond group, De Beers, to break down dissolved pollutants in waste streams.

The University of Surrey researchers have used the diamond system to treat a solution containing two PFAS compounds: perfluoroalkyl butanoic acid and perfluoroalkyl butane sulphonic acid. The study is yet to be published. The system is made by synthetic diamond producer, Element Six.

According to the firm, it had already been successful in treating “extremely contaminated industrial effluent that cannot be tackled by conventional water treatment processes” including pharmaceutical and textile dye wastewaters.

Leader of the Surrey University team, Dr Madeleine Bussemaker, said fluorine release – which indicates the degree of breakdown of the PFAS molecules – “could be greater than than 90% of initial fluorine in the PFAS.” She added: “This was a really exciting result to see in such a preliminary study.” She said the researchers were currently working on optimising the method for a range of PFAS types.


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