Allonnia’s technology, invented by EPOC Enviro, is called Surface Active Foam Fractionation (SAFF) and works by separating PFAS from water or soil and concentrating it without using chemicals or adsorption media. Rather, SAFF uses bubbles that flow through water columns; PFAS attaches to the bubbles, which foam at the top of the column, and are then collected and concentrated.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

April 1, 2024

5 Min Read
Justin Long / Alamy Stock Photo

Biotech company Allonnia is entering its ninth contract with the Department of Defense (DoD) to demonstrate a technology that separates and concentrates per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The latest project, a collaboration between the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), will leverage several methods that separate and concentrate these forever chemicals in order to validate other technologies that destroy the separated concentrate.

This two-year undertaking, funded by DoD’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), will evaluate the effectiveness and financial feasibility of these systems as commercial, off-the-shelf treatments to deal with PFAS-impacted water.

Allonnia’s technology, invented by EPOC Enviro, is called Surface Active Foam Fractionation (SAFF) and works by separating PFAS from water or soil and concentrating it without using chemicals or adsorption media. Rather, SAFF uses bubbles that flow through water columns; PFAS attaches to the bubbles, which foam at the top of the column, and are then collected and concentrated.

SAFF does not just remove PFAS from water, but it does so in highly concentrated, low-volume solutions, says Kent Sorenson, Allonnia’s chief technology officer.

“That’s important because most of the energy usage and costs associated with PFAS treatment is in the destruction technology. So, the more you can concentrate in small volume the more energy efficient and cost effective the treatment,” he says.

Unlike techniques using media to separate and remove PFAS, which leave behind residue that must be removed and destroyed as a liquid or incinerated as solid and liquid together, SAFF delivers a liquid concentrate that can go straight to destruction.

Allonnia’s separation technique has been paired with several PFAS destruction systems, such as super critical water oxidation, which uses water’s properties with oxygen to destroy organic compounds. This project is in partnership with Revive Environmental, one of the few companies ready to launch super critical water oxidation at full scale.

Allonnia has also been involved in electrochemical oxidation projects, teaming with environmental company AECOM and water technology company Aclarity. And SAFF has been paired with Aquagga’s hydrothermal alkaline treatment and Onvector’s technology that destroys PFAS concentrate with plasma energy. Allonnia also has an upcoming DoD demo with Haley & Aldrich that will assess an oxidation treatment combining ultraviolet and sulfite to destroy PFAS.

Having a toolbox of different technologies will be useful to the market, say industry stakeholders in the PFAS remediation space.

“It’s not one size fits all.  There are differences in capital and operating costs. Some technologies have lower capital costs but use more energy. Some have lower capital and operating costs but are not necessarily as robust, so while they work on some specific PFAS wastes they do not work on as many of them,” Sorenson says.

SAFF can be paired with any destruction technology, he says. That’s because while some systems can handle only solids, all of them can treat low-volume liquids, regardless of concentration.

PFAS effluent can be recirculated through Allonnia’s system if at least 95 percent of it is destroyed on the first pass. In the end, this closed-loop operation leaves behind no discharge, according to Sorenson.

“So, it eases the burden on the destruction technology. It does not have to be perfect,” he says.

With a treatment capacity of about 100 gallons per minute, SAFF could treat as much as 52 million gallons of water if running continuously over one year. For perspective on what this scale means, three or four units could treat the water supply of one small town.

The upcoming DoD project between DoD’s ESTCP and DIU will assess technologies over six months, covering different seasons under varied weather conditions, as well as vet for details such as whether strategies maximize removal of short-chain compounds, which are especially persistent, and whether there are any air emissions.

At another DoD project at Joint Base Cape Cod in Massachusetts, SAFF met the maximum PFAS contaminant level restrictions proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Data collected from two locations that Allonnia can’t name yet also confirms these capabilities.

“In each of these cases we were dealing with nonfoaming groundwater. With stable foam it’s much easier to remove foam and PFAS with it. So, these were challenging scenarios,” Sorenson says.

DoD has been aggressive in addressing its PFAS liability realizing these chemicals are heavily present at many of its sites, mostly from aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant.

“This [latest] DoD PFAS project contributes directly to the health and well-being of service members, ensuring their safety and quality of life at installations worldwide. Moreover, successful prototypes developed through this initiative not only fulfill immediate operational needs but also pave the way for broader adoption across all service branches,” a DoD spokesperson wrote to Waste360.

“This demonstrates DIU's effectiveness in facilitating cross-service collaboration and leveraging commercial innovation to address complex environmental challenges, as well as in fostering partnerships with commercial entities,” DoD said.

While this government agency is one of the earliest adopters of PFAS treatments, more industries are starting to explore them. Landfill operators are looking into and or already investing in available options as most landfill leachate contains PFAS from consumer products and they risk having their leachate rejected by public water treatment systems if it contains these toxic chemicals.

More industries will invest in time, projects Sorenson, and points to manufacturers whose past practices resulted in PFAS contamination and those who still actively produce PFAS-laden wastewater.

Allonnia is staying busy and expects to get busier. In addition to projects with industry, it’s about to engage in more DoD-funded work, including at a former Air Force base in Michigan and another at a former Air Force base in California, both slated for later in 2024.

As far as what the future holds for PFAS treatments in general, Sorenson says the industry can soon expect to see PFAS sensors integrated with treatment technologies to be able to understand the degree of contamination. These up-and-coming screening tools are designed to be cheaper and deliver quicker results than labs.  

“We will start to see field sensors hopefully in the next year. And in terms of treating PFAS-contaminated water completely on site, the future is now. We [Allonnia] are already treating it on site, full-scale commercially today.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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