A partnership known as 4never between four organizations — Heritage-Crystal Clean, Revive Environmental, Allonnia and Emerging Pollutants of Concern (EPOC) Enviro — has culminated in the first post-lab solution for destroying PFAS in the U.S., executives say. It’s happening at a Heritage-Crystal Clean site in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.
The facility is home to a full-scale deployment of Revive Environmental’s PFAS Annihilator Technology, along with Surface Active Foam Fractionation (SAFF) technology manufactured in Australia by EPOC Enviro.
The facility handles concentrated waste from more than 100,000 gallons of landfill leachate per day. Once the concentrate makes it to the PFAS Annihilator, the harmful PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are destroyed in just 10-30 seconds.
“We’re taking a human-created problem and eliminating it in seconds with a human-created solution,” said David Trueba, president and CEO of Revive Environmental.
The Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit research center Battelle and an investment firm launched Revive Environmental to oversee sales, operations and technology for the PFAS Annihilator.
The deployment comes one year after Battelle launched a successful, smaller-scale pilot version of the PFAS Annihilator at the same Grand Rapids-area location. Work on the technology began five years ago, and as of this April, the Annihilator has gone to scale and is in its first commercial deployment.
How it works
Today, trucks haul the leachate from nearby landfills to the facility, where it is stored in massive tanks before undergoing a stripping process through the SAFF technology. The SAFF unit produces 100 gallons of concentrate each day from every 100,000 gallons or more of leachate brought into the facility.
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Once ready, forklifts transport the concentrate over to the PFAS Annihilator in a different building onsite. The concentrate undergoes pre-treatment and filtering before it’s pumped into the Annihilator, which uses a combination of high temperatures, high pressure and a critical oxygen stream to break down the chemical bonds of PFAS. Trueba said the process was energy-intensive to start but now generates and recycles more energy than it consumes.
Clean effluent water, plus carbon dioxide and inert salts, are the result of the annihilation process. Heritage-Crystal Clean will discharge the clean water to publicly owned water treatment sites. The company holds a discharge permit that includes regular monitoring to confirm compliance with discharge limits.
Executives from Heritage-Crystal Clean and Battelle say state and local regulatory agencies — such as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy — already have conducted multiple inspections and concur that the process is protective of human health and the environment. Plans and permits are all in place to confirm ongoing environmental compliance.
‘This actually destroys’ PFAS
Originating in the 1940s, PFAS are man-made chemicals part of a large group of more than 5,000 compounds. Because of their chemical and physical properties, PFAS have been widely used in various consumer and industrial products, such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant textiles, paint, metal plating, food packaging and firefighting foams.
In recent years, PFAS have drawn attention and public health concerns based on growing evidence that exposure can lead to harmful health effects. The endocrine disruptors interfere with hormone systems, and research has linked PFAS to various types of cancer and reproductive problems, to name a few.
“Ninety-six percent of Americans have some PFAS in their blood levels,” Trueba said.
Meanwhile, companies across the U.S. are racing to commercialize PFAS-destroying technology, a potentially $20 billion market that’s part of the $100 billion PFAS-cleanup industry, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
In East Lansing, a startup backed by Michigan State University’s MSU Innovation Center is focused on equipment and technology to destroy PFAS in water. The company, Enspired Solutions, has raised $3 million in seed funding as it aims to scale up, Crain’s Detroit Business reported earlier this year.
The PFAS destruction capability ended up near Grand Rapids largely because of a vision from Brian Recatto, president and CEO of Heritage-Crystal Clean, which is based in Elgin, Ill., northwest of Chicago. Recatto understood the dangers of PFAS and had received phone calls with concerns relating to the harmful chemicals from his customers.
“We picked Grand Rapids because Michigan has been one of the more aggressive states in terms of protecting overall water quality,“ Recatto said. “We also had meaningful outreach from clients within the state looking for help and options to economically remove PFAS from large aqueous streams.”
During what he described as a moment of “pandemic boredom” a few years ago, Recatto started to research potential solutions and came across the work Battelle was doing. He reached out to Battelle, and the two organizations ended up forming a partnership for Heritage-Crystal Clean to serve as the first customer offering the PFAS Annihilator solution.
Recatto also connected with EPOC Enviro after discovering the SAFF technology at a trade show. Together with Revive and Allonnia, the exclusive North American distributor of SAFF, Recatto initiated the 4never partnership.
The partnership serves as the first closed-loop PFAS remediation system, which includes the PFAS Annihilator as the destruction technology.
“Other types of technology transfer the PFAS molecules to different byproducts — this actually destroys them,” Recatto said.
Trueba said Revive intends to deploy six additional PFAS destruction systems at other facilities later this year and 18 to 25 systems next year. The long-term goal is to have 50 systems in operation across the U.S. by 2025.
A team of six full-time staff members are deploying the PFAS Annihilator near Grand Rapids, and Trueba said he hopes to add more people to the team and have the capacity to operate 24/7 by mid-June. Full capacity will mean the Annihilator can process 500 gallons of concentrate per day.
Other next steps include additional research, which could potentially lead to the processing of PFAS from biosolids instead of just water, according to Amy Dindal, PFAS program manager at Battelle.
She said the goal all along has been to bring this solution to market. Battelle scientists and researchers have been developing methods of detecting and combating PFAS contamination for two decades, and in the past five years worked intensively to invent a system to completely destroy PFAS chemicals.
“We’ve had the intention of scaling this technology all along,” Dindal said. “There will be no ‘valley of death’ for this technology.”
Kayleigh Van Wyk writes for Crain’s sister publication Crain’s Grand Rapids Business.
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