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Researchers Make Breakthroughs Against the "Eternal Chemical" PFOA

Researchers Make Breakthroughs Against the “Eternal Chemical” PFOA

When it comes to environmental pollutants, few substances cause more problems than perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as perfluorooctanoic acid, is a substance called a “forever chemical” that takes thousands of years to degrade in the environment. Although the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) has been largely phased out in recent years, it still poses a significant risk to human health and the environment.

Now, however, there may be hope on the horizon. A research team from Rice University has developed a light-activated catalyst that can rapidly break down perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in water samples. The catalyst consists of boron nitride, a common, commercially available powder often used in cosmetics. Upon exposure to ultraviolet radiation with a wavelength of 254 nm, it was found that boron nitride catalyst destroys 99% of PFOA within a few hours.

The results are not perfect yet

“This was great because PFOA is an increasingly problematic contaminant and it’s really hard to destroy,” said study author So Wong. “But it wasn’t quite perfect either, because boron nitride is activated by short-wave UV radiation, and the atmosphere filters out nearly all of the short-wave UV rays from sunlight. We wanted to maximize the ability of boron nitride to harvest energy from other wavelengths of sunlight” .

UV-A, or UV-A, has a wavelength of about 315-400 nm. It causes tanning and sunburn and is abundant in normal sunlight that reaches the Earth. Boron nitride is a semiconductor that is not activated by UV-A. Titanium dioxide, on the other hand, a common ingredient in sunscreens, is a semiconductor activated by ultraviolet A rays. It has been shown to stimulate the breakdown of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), albeit very slowly, when exposed to UV-A. In their new study, the scientists show that compounds powered by ultraviolet energy destroy perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) about 15 times faster than simple titanium dioxide photocatalysts.

99% effectiveness

Wong’s team used photocurrent measurements and other data to see how the semiconductor compound uses UV-A energy to break down PFOA molecules in water. In outdoor experiments using plastic water bottles under natural sunlight, they found that the compound boron nitride and titanium dioxide can break down about 99% of PFOA in deionized water in less than three hours. In salt water, this process took about nine hours.

Although more testing is needed, this breakthrough presents a potential solution to the problem of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination. If the light-powered catalyst can be scaled up and commercialized, it could help clean up polluted water supplies and protect human health and the environment for future generations. The researchers published their results in the specialized journal Journal of Chemical Engineering.

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