Thermal Regeneration of Spent Granular Activated Carbon Presents an Opportunity to Break the Forever PFAS Cycle

By Sonmez Baghirzade B, Zhang Y, Reuther JF, Saleh NB, Venkatesan AK, and Apul OG
Environ Sci Technol
April 27, 2021
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c08224

Extensive use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has caused their ubiquitous presence in natural waters. One of the standard practices for PFAS removal from water is adsorption onto granular activated carbon (GAC); however, this approach generates a new waste stream, i.e., PFAS-laden GAC. Considering the recalcitrance of PFAS molecules in the environment, inadequate disposal (e.g., landfill or incineration) of PFAS-laden GAC may let PFAS back into the aquatic cycle. Therefore, developing approaches for PFAS-laden GAC management present unique opportunities to break its forever circulation within the aqueous environment. This comprehensive review evaluates the past two decades of research on conventional thermal regeneration of GAC and critically analyzes and summarizes the literature on regeneration of PFAS-laden GACs. Optimized thermal regeneration of PFAS-laden GACs may provide an opportunity to employ existing regeneration infrastructure to mineralize the adsorbed PFAS and recover the spent GAC. The specific objectives of this review are (i) to investigate the role of physicochemical properties of PFAS on thermal regeneration, (ii) to assess the changes in regeneration yield as well as GAC physical and chemical structure upon thermal regeneration, and (iii) to critically discuss regeneration parameters controlling the process. This literature review on the engineered regeneration process illustrates the significant promise of this approach that can break the endless environmental cycle of these forever chemicals, while preserving the desired physicochemical properties of the valuable GAC adsorbent.


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