Downtown-based AECOM has unveiled its first large-scale field demonstration of an economically and environmentally sustainable technology to clean up contaminated liquids without generating hazardous waste at two sites in Melbourne, Australia.

AECOM’s technology, which it calls “de-fluoro,” uses an electrochemical oxidation process to destroy fluoroalkyl chemicals from contaminated liquids.


The specific contaminants it targets are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

 
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these contaminants are manmade chemicals that are used in food packaging, commercial household products (such as Teflon pans and cleaning products) and manufacturing processes such as chrome plating.

 
These chemicals are particularly pernicious because they don’t break down and can accumulate over time in the bodies of humans, fish and other organisms. For that reason, they are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.”


“PFAS contamination is one of the biggest environmental concerns we are facing today,” AECOM President Lara Poloni said in the company’s field test announcement in early March.

 
“After several years helping our clients to understand the human and environmental impacts of PFAS contamination, our teams took action to develop a market-leading solution that would eliminate one of the world’s most challenging contaminants from our communities,” she added.


AECOM said it has been remediating fluoroalkyl chemicals from liquids it has encountered at project sites for more than 20 years. Until now, the standard remediation approach has been to separate out the chemicals and then stockpile or incinerate them at tremendous cost.

 
The company has been collaborating with some clients and third parties to find a cheaper and more environmentally sustainable solution, eventually coming up with this electrochemical oxidation technology that completely breaks down the chemicals, so no hazardous waste is generated.


Melbourne was chosen as the location for the pilot project because it is near two large projects AECOM had been working on that involved remediation of fluoroalkyl chemicals: the Royal Australian Air Force base in Williamtown, New South Wales, and the Army Aviation Center Oakey in Queensland.


“With the first large-scale field demonstration unit rolling off the production line and going on to client sites, we are ready to help them clean up a legacy of PFAS that has built up over decades,” Gavin Scherer, AECOM’s global PFAS commercialization leader, said in a statement.

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