Cobalt-catalyzed Defluorination of Branched Perfluorinated Compounds

Due to the persistence of PFAS in the environment, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, Riverside, teamed up to work on novel ways to degrade PFAS by using a multi-faceted approach that combines chemical and biological tools to investigate cobalt (Co)-catalyzed defluorination. The team also investigated the defluorination products of this process and their toxicity. In addition, they investigated the development of PFAS that are more easily degradable in the environment and new strategies for removing current types of PFAS from the environment. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center worked with the researchers on an awareness campaign that involves several seminars and a conference about the research findings. These efforts built a collaborative network among the PFAS research community and increased the public’s awareness of environmental contamination from PFAS.

The project had broad impacts on the design and remediation of PFAS and generate new sustainable and environmentally benign PFAS. These impacts not only helped stop the release of highly recalcitrant PFAS, but also enabled simplified environmental treatment with controlled chemical and biological approaches. In addition to improved environmental wellbeing, the project supported the training and development of graduate and undergraduate students from a diverse population in STEM fields (e.g., chemistry, environmental science, and chemical/environmental engineering majors). Their participation in this project prepared them for careers in industry, academia, or government agencies. Furthermore, the education and outreach campaign drew more attention the issue of PFAS, and it also demonstrated the pivotal roles of sustainable chemistry, engineering, and materials science in solving grand environmental challenges to science and government leaders and the general public.

This research and education campaign was funded by the National Science Foundation.