Superfund Research Program
A Photoelectrocatalytic Device for Removing MTBE from Water
Project Leader: Terence P. Barry
Grant Number: R43ES017576
Funding Period: Phase I: September 2009 – September 2010
The overall aim of this project is to develop and commercialize a photoelectrocatalytic oxidation (PECO) process for removing organic contaminants from the environment. The initial focus will be on remediating the fuel oxygenate methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) that leaks into groundwater from Underground Storage Tanks (UST’s). Based on the results, potential applications for this process in groundwater, process water, and industrial remediation will be considered. The rationale for focusing on MTBE is that this compound is (1) a significant risk to human heath, (2) a major environmental pollutant, and (3) difficult to remediate compared to many other organic contaminants in groundwater. Moreover, the market demand for technologies that can economically remediate MTBE is high. In this regard, it is estimated that there are 3.7 million UST’s in the country: 3 million used in farms and residences, 700,000 commercial (with multiple vessels), each in varying stages of decay and disrepair. Millions of dollars of Federal money is annually marked for UST remediation, and many states have UST remediation plans and funds. Preliminary studies have demonstrated that various organic contaminants can be economically, rapidly, and completely mineralized using our PECO technology. More data is needed, however, to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of using PECO to remediate MTBE.
PECO prototypes will be used in replicate laboratory experiments to evaluate the effects of NaCl concentration, initial MTBE concentration, and competing contaminants (e.g., BTEX) on the degradation kinetics, and degree of mineralization of MTBE and its expected reaction by-products. Compounds will be measured by TOC and GC-MS. Additional larger commercial-scale PECO units will be fabricated and tested at actual MTBE-contaminated sites to evaluate the effectiveness and costs of MTBE remediation by PECO. Based on the results of these evaluations, additional trials and studies will be designed in Phase 2 for remediation of other problem organic contaminants. A particular interest will be determining the economic viability of employing PECO as the first stage of a two-stage PECO/GAC treatment system.