Efficient treatment of perfluorohexanoic acid by nanofiltration followed by electrochemical degradation of the NF concentrate
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The present study was aimed at the development of a strategy for removing and degrading perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) from industrial process waters at concentrations in the range 60–200 mg L-1. The treatment train consisted of nanofiltration (NF) separation followed by electrochemical degradation of the NF concentrate. Using a laboratory-scale system and working in the total recirculation mode, the DowFilm NF270 membrane provided PFHxA rejections that varied in the range 96.6–99.4% as the operating pressure was increased from 2.5 to 20 bar. The NF operation in concentration mode enabled a volume reduction factor of 5 and increased the PFHxA concentration in the retentate to 870 mg L-1. Results showed that the increase in PFHxA concentration and the presence of calcium sulfate salts did not induce irreversible membrane fouling. The NF retentate was treated in a commercial undivided electrochemical cell provided with two parallel flow-by compartments separated by bipolar boron doped diamond (BDD) electrode, BDD counter anode, and counter cathode. Current densities ranging from 20 to 100 A m-2 were examined. The electrochemical degradation rate of PFHxA reached 98% and was accompanied by its efficient mineralization, as the reduction of total organic carbon was higher than 95%. Energy consumption, which was 15.2 kWh m-3 of treated NF concentrate, was minimized by selecting operation at 50 A m-2. While most of the previous research on the treatment of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) focused on the removal of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), these compounds have been phased out by chemical manufacturers. Our findings are relevant for the treatment of PFHxA, which appears to be one of the present alternatives to long-chain PFASs thanks to its lower bioaccumulative potential than PFOA and PFOS. However, PFHxA also behaves as a persistent pollutant. Moreover, our results highlight the potential of combining membrane separation and electrochemical oxidation for the efficient treatment of PFAS-impacted waters.