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Viewpoint: The future of PFAS detection, treatment and destruction

Monday, 7 August 2023

In our latest Viewpoint article, Kelly Trott from Imagine H2O looks at the incredible work of innovative companies revolutionizing PFAS detection, treatment, and destruction technologies.

PFAS forward

It's astonishing how per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have permeated our daily lives. Found in dental floss, water resistance clothing, firefighting foam, and our water, PFAS is ubiquitous. Recent studies estimate that PFAS exists in at least 45 per cent of our water sources, posing significant health and environmental risks.

Despite these concerns, PFAS production continues, as evidenced by the recent lawsuit with American multinational conglomerate 3M. While the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated regulations, it aims to limit PFAS to four parts per trillion, not completely eliminate it.

Amidst this bleak picture, we are making progress. There are innovative companies that are not only working to meet the regulatory limits, but go beyond them with the potential to revolutionise the field. Imagine H2O is working across the PFAS management spectrum: detection, treatment, and destruction. We identify these groundbreaking solutions, support their development, and expedite their market entry, all while raising awareness among water consumers.

Mapping PFAS technology landscapes

Having mapped the PFAS technology landscape for years, Imagine H2O has witnessed a surge in interest from innovators, partners, and technology adopters. In 2018, we first supported Puraffinity, a UK-based start-up that developed a unique adsorbent material capable of selectively capturing and removing PFAS compounds from water. This proprietary material has exhibited promising results in lab tests and pilot projects, providing a scalable treatment solution for addressing PFAS contamination.

Beyond Puraffinity, many of our portfolio companies are now venturing into the PFAS space. FREDsense, a Canadian based company, is making significant progress in PFAS detection. Its innovative biosensor technology enables rapid and accurate identification of PFAS compounds in water, facilitating efficient monitoring and early intervention. By enabling swift detection, FREDsense's technology allows for prompt action, preventing further contamination and expedited response times. We anticipate similar developments from other portfolio companies in the coming years, leveraging pre-existing technologies.

PFAS destruction technology

In addition to detection and treatment, destruction technologies are also emerging. Aclarity, a Massachusetts-based startup working with Imagine H2O, specialises in destroying PFAS. It has successfully developed an advanced electrochemical oxidation system capable of removing PFAS compounds from contaminated water sources. Aclarity's cost-effective and efficient solution promises to eliminate PFAS forever, ensuring safer water for communities. We funded its first ever mobile pilot installation in Detroit, Michigan which achieved destruction of up to 99 per cent in landfill leachate, bringing levels to below the detection limit.

Communication is key

Beyond supporting these innovative start-ups, Imagine H2O believes in the importance of communication and outreach beyond the water industry. Our team recently led a PFAS Deep Dive where these three innovators collaborated with the US EPA. One of my biggest takeaways from this conversation was the nuanced challenges in meeting proposed regulations without the necessary technology available at scale.

As an accelerator in the water sector, we are in a unique position to bring together key stakeholders and foster challenging conversations. It is time to discuss topics that truly drive change, both within the water sector and beyond.