Superfund Research Program

February 2020

Dibakar Bhattacharyya and Lindell Ormsbee

Bhattacharyya, left, and colleague Lindell Ormsbee, Ph.D., check out an experimental design to test the membranes.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky SRP Center)

In two recent studies, researchers at the University of Kentucky SRP Center demonstrated that they can effectively remove contaminants, including trichloroethylene (TCE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), from water using specialized membranes. Led by Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., the research team developed functional membranes that can both trap and degrade contaminants.

The researchers created specialized membranes integrated with iron-based nanoparticles. The nanoparticles can be regenerated after use, making the technology reusable. Bhattacharyya's group pioneered the synthesis of these nanoparticles to break down chlorinated contaminants. After studying the functional properties of the nanoparticle-based membranes, the team tested the ability of the membranes to break down contaminants individually and in a mixture. They also conducted a longer-term study in the lab to confirm the stability and regeneration of the membranes. They found that the membrane technology quickly and successfully degraded TCE, carbon tetrachloride, and related compounds. According to the team, its approach shows potential for use in real conditions, such as hazardous waste sites.

Starting with the same membrane base, the researchers swapped out the nanoparticles for polymer materials to create specialized membranes to remove PFOA from water. They tested the membranes for functionality and efficiency in the lab. The team reported that manipulating temperature caused the technology to effectively release bound contaminants after cleanup. By making the membranes reusable, the researchers suggest their approach is more cost-effective than existing methods while removing PFOA from water at similar levels.