US Army engineers water filter for removing toxic ‘forever chemicals,’ pumps 1,200 gallons per hour

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A patent application filed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailing a mobile, large-scale filtration system that removes PFAS chemicals from groundwater was made public for the first time on Thursday.

The patent publication comes just days after the Biden administration announced a three-year plan to regulate and restrict the use of these chemicals, which the U.S. military used in firefighting foam at many of its bases.

PFAS are industrial chemicals that don’t easily break down and are still used by some U.S. manufacturers. But according to the CDC, scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes including infertility, high blood pressure, childhood developmental disorders, and cancer. And public water systems are not yet required to monitor levels.

“For far too long, families across America – especially those in underserved communities – have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a prepared statement. “This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser-focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable.”

Army R&D

PFAS have been used in the military’s aqueous film-forming firefighting foams for 50 years and high levels have been found in groundwater near at least 401 active or closed military bases, with 36 sites having been identified with drinking water levels that exceed the EPA’s lifetime health advisory levels.

To help address the need for cleanup, Victor Medina is leading a research team at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Environmental Lab, a division of the Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Its resulted in the now patent-pending system known as the PETS, short for PFAS Effluent Treatment System.

PETS has been successfully tested at a Department of Defense airfield in Florida (and several other locations), removing PFAS from over 80,000 gallons of water to a level of 70 parts per trillion or less.

“The treatment system performed continuous operation for 67.5 hours to process about 80,000 gallons of PFAS contaminated water and produce about 43,000 gallons of treated water,” the Army’s patent application states.

The trailer-mounted PETS is pump-powered by an onboard generator. It uses commercially available ion-exchange resin, cartridge filter for sediment removal, and granular activated carbon filters to remove contaminants.

“We’re so excited about the technology; the PETS is up to 90 times less expensive over a five-year period than traditional cleanup efforts. For a particularly challenging overseas installation, costs were approximately $2.9 million annually. First-year costs with PETS are approximately $95,000, with follow-on operational costs at $15,000 per year,” Medina said.

Commercialization by Private Companies

Through technology transfer, businesses of all sizes can partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on commercializing PETS into a widely available solution for taking PFAS chemicals out of groundwater.

Quinton King, senior technology manager at TechLink, is providing the private sector with PETS-related technology transfer services. TechLink is the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, meaning King is an expert in helping private companies learn more about available Army technologies, prepare a patent license application and commercialization plan, and then advise them through the process of licensing Army inventions (ERDC has many available).

Obtaining a patent license would allow a company to commercialize and take PETS to the market.

“With regulations coming soon, the timing here is good,” King said on Thursday after reviewing the patent application. “We all want clean water and this tech has proven it can really deliver that. It’s time to find a company that wants to take this to market.”

Hit the Contact Us button below to send King a message and begin the process.

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