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Testbed and expertise to solve PFAS problems

Today’s widespread use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in products such as ski wax, clothing, cosmetics and firefighting foam causes numerous problems. PFAS substances are not only suspected of being harmful to humans and animals, but they also contaminate soil and water. RISE is now collaborating with the Swedish Armed Forces, the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration and the Swedish Fortifications Agency in a project called Testbed PFAS. The project´s aim is two-fold: the first aim is to find PFAS-free alternatives to firefighting foam and the second is to identify ways to remediate PFAS-contaminated soil.

Firefighting foam containing PFAS is very effective at extinguishing liquid fires. Its use has been very widespread due to the properties possessed by PFAS, such as the substances building a film between the foam and the burning liquid. But despite the favourable extinguishing properties, its use causes major problems.

Problems arise from the fact that PFAS degrade extremely slowly. This means that they persist in nature long after they have been used. Some PFAS substances are suspected of being carcinogenic and harmful to humans and animals as well as the environment. As a result of previous use, there are currently large areas in which the soil and water are contaminated with PFAS.

Testbed PFAS to remediate soils and find new extinguishing agents

A research project called Testbed PFAS is underway at RISE. It is a collaborative project between RISE, the Swedish Armed Forces, the Swedish Fortifications Agency and the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration. The research in the project is conducted along two parallel tracks. One track focuses on remediating soil and water of contaminants stemming from previous use. The other track involves finding alternative extinguishing agents and extinguishing methods that work just as well as the extinguishing agents containing PFAS.

Various operators  – companies, research projects and innovatorscontribute their solutions to the two tracks. In the project, the operators’ solutions are tested, and the operators are therefore referred to as “testers”.

– “The project will contribute important facts to FMV’s future work to produce a fire-extinguishing liquid with less environmental impact for the Swedish Air Force’s rescue vehicles,” says Tina Branting at the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV).
 

– “We have participated in the project from initiative to start-up and remain involved during the ongoing work,” says Anna-Karin Lindblad Wieslander, Director of Development at the Swedish Fortifications Agency. “Our aim is to find remediation methods that benefit the whole of society. Successful PFAS remediation and alternative extinguishing methods are, of course, mainly about the environment and health, but it is also an important global issue relating to land use and future growth.” 

Testbed PFAS brings together stakeholders and testers with different solutions

Optimally remediate contaminated soil

Research is being conducted in soil that is already contaminated by PFAS. The goal is to find functional and efficient ways to remediate the existing contaminated areas. This is an urgent matter for the Swedish Armed Forces and the Swedish Fortifications Agency, as well as for other Swedish and international stakeholders.

– “Ten or so solutions for remediating contaminated soil or water have been evaluated so far, and the work is progressing according to plan,” says Tove Mallin, Researcher at RISE and Project Manager for Testbed PFAS. “At the same time as several technologies are being evaluated on a laboratory scale, the next step is to carry out large-scale evaluations in various contaminated areas.”

Physical testbed for large-scale evaluation

Mallin explains that a process is currently underway to identify various PFAS-contaminated areas in Sweden where testing can be performed. The next step in the research involves creating a physical testbed for large-scale evaluation, and it is important to find the right locations for these tests.

– “What strikes me when I visit different places with PFAS problems is that there is a considerable need for solutions,” says Mallin. “But even more important is the need to ensure and compare the effectiveness of different methods. This is necessary in order to implement measures and stop the spread of PFAS to the environment and people.”

Research will find new extinguishing agents

In parallel with the research into soil remediation, research is underway to identify PFAS-free extinguishing agents that extinguish liquid fires just as effectively. Different extinguishing agents are being continuously evaluated in the project, where between 50 and 70 tests per year are carried out in the fire halls at RISE. To date, no equally effective alternative has been found. The new alternative agents can extinguish fires, but not as quickly. So the search for PFAS alternatives continues.

The results so far seem very exciting

Testers are welcome to register their interest

As a tester, you can register your interest in having your solution evaluated by RISE within Testbed PFAS. An initial theoretical evaluation is conducted and a number of testers per year are selected for tests at laboratory scale.

– “It is in the order of 1 to 200 kg of soil or litres of water,” says Mallin.

– “The amount depends on which method is tested, and we try to be as flexible as possible. We carry out the evaluations either in laboratories at RISE or on-site. When it comes to extinguishing agents, the tests are performed using a standardised method in the fire halls at RISE in Borås.”

After initial laboratory tests, large-scale evaluations follow

Based on the results of the laboratory tests, additional selections are made to choose solutions for evaluation on a larger scale. The tests for remediating contaminated soil take place at the site, while extinguishing agent testing is carried out at a large fire test field. The results are reported and provide a basis for the defence sector to use in the procurement for both remediation of contaminated soil and new extinguishing agents.

It is still possible to apply to become a tester. Mallin welcomes more operators to contact her and RISE with suggestions for solutions as part of Testbed PFAS:

– “Testbed PFAS will be run for at least five years. And since the development of new solutions is ongoing, I hope that even more testers will sign up during the project.”

The goals of Testbed PFAS are both remediation and new extinguishing alternatives

The project’s goal is to create a basis for the procurement of both effective remediation techniques and extinguishing agents to meet the needs of the defence sector.

– “Our collaboration in the defence sector regarding the management of PFAS is an important part of our continuous sustainability work,” says Naznoush Habashian, Head of Sustainability at the Swedish Armed Forces. “This involves both dealing with the Armed Forces’ historical PFAS contaminantions by using methods for remediation and decontamination as well as identifying substitutes and alternative methods to replace extinguishing agents containing PFAS. Here, the joint project with RISE is an important element for moving forward faster with research and testing,"

Start-to-finish collaborative projects facilitating research

The fact that Testbed PFAS is a multi-party collaboration project shows the great need for new solutions with a guaranteed effect. By jointly funding and driving the project forward, several parties ensure that the project receives a high priority and the support needed.

– “The results so far are very exciting and there are high expectations for Testbed PFAS,” says Mallin. “The project has high hopes of finding alternative PFAS-free extinguishing methods. There are also very interesting and promising results when it comes to the remediation of contaminated soil. There are indications that several methods will be required to remediate PFAS from different types of soils and water under varying conditions.”

Published: 2021-09-08

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Tove Mallin

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