Reactor uses ‘supercritical’ water to destroy chemicals forever

A new reactor completely breaks down hard-to-destroy chemicals forever using “supercritical water,” which forms at high temperature and pressure, the researchers report.

Forever chemicals, named for their ability to persist in water and soil, are a class of molecules ubiquitous in our daily lives, including food packaging and household cleaning products. Because these chemicals don’t break down, they end up in our water and food and can cause health effects, such as cancer or decreased fertility.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed giving two of the most common forever chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS, a “superfund” designation, which would allow the EPA to more easily track them and plan cleanup actions.

Clearings would obviously be more effective if the Eternal chemicals could be destroyed in the process.

As reported in chemical engineering journalThe new reactor’s technology could help treat industrial waste, destroy forever concentrated chemicals that already exist in the environment, and treat old stocks, such as forever chemicals in fire-fighting foam.

The assembled reactor (tube shown here). At the top, researchers inject pilot fuel, air, and the chemicals they want to destroy into supercritical water. At the bottom of the reactor, the mixture is cooled to produce both liquid and gaseous discharge. (Credit: Igor Novosselov/U. Washington)

Here, Igor Novosselov, Associate Research Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington, talks about the details:

Novosselov is also a researcher on the faculty of the Institute of Engineering and Molecular Sciences and the Institute of Nano-Engineering Systems.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the US Army Research Office and a technology commercialization grant from the Washington Research Foundation funded the work. The research team has applied for a patent on the design and operation of the reactor.

Source: University of Washington

Original study DOI: 10.1016/j.cej.2022.139063