Smouldering to treat PFAS in sewage sludge

Fournie, T.; Rashwan, T. L.; Switzer, C. and Gerhard, J. I. (2023). Smouldering to treat PFAS in sewage sludge. Waste Management, 164 pp. 219–227.



Wastewater treatment plants are accumulation points for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and are threfore important facilities for PFAS treatment. This study explored using smouldering combustion to treat PFAS in sewage sludge. Base case experiments at the laboratory scale (LAB) used dried sludge mixed with sand. High moisture content (MC) LAB tests, 75% MC sludge by mass, explored impacts of MC on treatment and supplemented with granular activated carbon (GAC) to achieve sufficient temperatures for thermal destruction of PFAS. Additional LAB tests explored using calcium oxide (CaO) to support fluorine mineralization. Further tests performed at an oil-drum scale (DRUM) assessed scale on PFAS removal. Pre-treatment sludge and post-treatment ash samples from all tests were analyzed for 12 PFAS (2C–8C). Additional emissions samples were collected from all LAB tests and analyzed for 12 PFAS and hydrogen fluoride.

Smouldering removed all monitored PFAS from DRUM tests, and 4–8 carbon chain length PFAS from LAB tests. For base case tests, PFOS and PFOA were completely removed from sludge; however, high contents in the emissions (79–94% of total PFAS by mass) showed volatilization without degradation. Smouldering high MC sludge at ∼ 900 °C (30 g GAC/kg sand) improved PFAS degradation compared to treatment below 800 °C (<20 g GAC/kg sand). Addition of CaO before smouldering reduced PFAS content in emissions by 97–99% by mass; with minimal PFAS retained in the ash and minimal hydrofluoric acid (HF) production, as the fluorine from the PFAS was likely mineralized in the ash. Co-smouldering with CaO had dual benefits of removing PFAS while minimizing other hazardous emission by-products.

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