Practical PFAS Treatment with Sawdust

EPA Grant Number: SU839820
Title: Practical PFAS Treatment with Sawdust
Investigators: Tu, Maobing , Lu, Mingming
Institution: University of Cincinnati - Main Campus
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020
Project Amount: $24,952
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2019) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , P3 Awards


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment. They have been considered to be emerging contaminants by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pose potential threat to human health and the environment. Therefore, there is a critical need to expand the understanding of the environmental risks posed by PFAS and identify practical approaches to manage their potential environmental impacts. EPA is especially interested in developing innovative methods to treat and manage PFAS in solid waste landfills, drinking water and wastewater. The rationale of this research is functionalized cellulose-based sawdust would be much more cost-effective and practical than activated carbon (AC), commercial anion exchange resin or membrane filtration in removing PFAS from drinking water. The project seeks to develop sustainable biomass-based materials to remove PFAS from drinking water or wastewater, which in turn will protect the environment from PFAS contamination and reduce the PFAS risks to human health.


The objective of this study is to develop a practical and cost-effective approach to treat PFAS in drinking water from homes using functionalized sawdust and other renewable biomass. This will be an excellent public outreach opportunity to improve the awareness of PFAS in our water systems and to encourage public participation. 

The research hypothesis of this research is cellulose-based sawdust would be much more cost-effective and practical than activated carbon (AC), commercial anion exchange resin or membrane filtration in removing PFAS from drinking water. The expensed sawdust is expected to be incinerated after use instead of expensive regeneration. The potential PFAS emissions from this process will be evaluated.


The experimental approach consists of four tasks:

  1. Functionalize sawdust into biomass-based anion exchange resin;
  2. Determine the adsorption kinetics and adsorption isotherm of select PFAS compounds, including Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), on the functionalized sawdust
  3. Determine PFOA and PFOS removal from water bodies using functionalized sawdust column tests, in comparson wth AC
  4. Determine the air pollutant emissions from combustion of PFAS containing functionalized sawdust

An interdisciplinary team of students will work together on these tasks. This project will enable the student team to identify the community issues in our drinking water system. Undergraduate students will work in teams, and will be trained in the area of sustainability, analytical chemistry, process design and environmental protection. Efforts will be made to recruit female and under-represented students to work on this project.

Ths study will also be integrated with educational activities such as courses, and conferences.

Expected Results:

At the completion of this work, it is anticipated that highly effective functionalized sawdust will be developed and prototyped for removing PFAS from drinking water. The team will participate in various outreach events in the University of Cincinnati community, such as testing the PFOA and PFOS from various water sources. Students will disseminate their findings and data through conference presentation and journal articles. The technology developed in this project can be used in patent application. This research will improve decision making, management practices, and technical methods to minimize the PFAS risks to human, ecosystem and the environment.

Supplemental Keywords:

PFAS, anion exhange resin, functionalized sawdust, treatment, practical methods, wastewater