2023 journal article
Removal and destruction of perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids (PFECAs) in an anion exchange resin and electrochemical oxidation treatment train
WATER RESEARCH, 230.
Perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids (PFECAs) are a group of emerging recalcitrant contaminants that are being developed to replace legacy per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in industrial applications and that are generated as by-products in fluoropolymer manufacturing. Here, we report on the removal and destruction of four structurally different PFECAs using an integrated anion exchange resin (AER) and electrochemical oxidation (ECO) treatment train. Results from this work illustrated that (1) flow-through columns packed with PFAS-selective AERs are highly effective for the removal of PFECAs and (2) PFECA affinity is strongly correlated with their hydrophobic features. Regeneration of the spent resin columns revealed that high percentage (e.g., 80%) of organic cosolvent is necessary for achieving 60-100% PFECA release, and regeneration efficiency was higher for a macroporous resin than a gel-type resin. Treatment of spent regenerants showed (1) >99.99% methanol removal was achieved by distillation, (2) >99.999% conversion of the four studied PFECAs was achieved during the ECO treatment of the still bottoms after 24 hours with an energy per order of magnitude of PFECA removal (EE/O) <1.03 kWh/m3 of total groundwater treated, and (3) >85% of the organic fluorine was recovered as inorganic fluoride. Trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), perfluoropropionic acid (PFPrA), and perfluoro-2-methoxyacetic acid (PFMOAA) were confirmed via high-resolution mass spectrometry as transformation products (TPs) in the treated still bottoms, and two distinctive degradation schemes and four reaction pathways are proposed for the four PFECAs. Lastly, dissolved organic matter (DOM) inhibited uptake, regeneration, and oxidation of PFECAs throughout the treatment train, suggesting pretreatment steps targeting DOM removal can enhance the system's treatment efficiency. Results from this work provide guidelines for developing effective separation-concentration-destruction treatment trains and meaningful insights for achieving PFECA destruction in impacted aquatic systems.