GCM Staff Report

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced funding awards totaling nearly $1.2 million for 16 college student teams nationwide as part of its People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Program. These awards aim to support innovative projects tackling environmental challenges, such as removing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from water and combating harmful algal blooms.

“EPA is pleased to mark the 20th anniversary of our P3 program by announcing this impressive round of projects that are tackling critical issues such as removing PFAS from water, combating harmful algal blooms, and materials recovery and reuse,” Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development Chris Frey said in a news release on March 14. “I commend these hardworking and creative students and look forward to seeing the results of their innovative projects that are addressing some of our thorniest sustainability and environmental challenges.”

One of the awarded projects is the “Biochar-Enabled Platform for Enhanced Destruction and Defluorination of Short-Chain Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Water” led by Auburn University Main Campus in collaboration with Tuskegee University. This project, funded with $75,000 in funding awards from EPA, aims to develop a cost-effective and sustainable technique for providing PFAS-free drinking water. The project is set to conlcude on December 31, 2025.

PFAS contamination poses significant challenges in Alabama, particularly in the Black Belt region, where PFAS concentrations in residents’ blood are alarmingly high compared to the national average. The project aims to address this issue by training students in PFAS remediation technologies and conducting lab-scale demonstrations to develop effective treatment methods.

Using biochars produced from agricultural wastes, the project aims to preconcentrate PFAS from water and then destroy them using ultraviolet radiation. The ultimate goal is to achieve a cost-effective, efficient and sustainable method for combating PFAS pollution in water.

The project’s objectives include synthesizing and characterizing biochar-enabled platforms, investigating their effectiveness in different water matrices, and developing methods for regenerating and reusing the platforms. Success measures include achieving high degradation and defluorination efficiencies for PFAS compounds and disseminating project findings through peer-reviewed publications and conferences.

   

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