Industry produces critically important chemicals and coatings. Some, like the ones used to make pans non-stick; firefighting foam non-combustible; or fabric stain-resistant, are complex molecules. Some of the most prevalent are Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of persistent, bioaccumulative toxic compounds.
Remediating these complex long-chain molecules is particularly challenging because the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest chemical bonds in nature. The challenge – it's potentially toxic even at single parts per trillion. Allonnia is focused on developing solutions that effectively and efficiently address PFAS contamination.
Our approach to solving PFAS in the environment is focused in three areas:
Sensing — detecting trace amounts of PFAS in the environment;
Removal — extracting concentrated PFAS from contaminated water; and
Remediation — degrading the removed PFAS by enzymatically breaking the C-F bonds
Before we can deploy technologies to address PFAS, we need to be able to measure the scale of contamination. We are working on sensing technology that effectively detects down to parts per trillion. We are using protein based bioaffinity as well as whole cell microbial approaches to develop a sensor that can detect, bind and manifest the presence of PFAS either through an electrochemical response or fluorescence that can be measured precisely. Deployment in combination with an engineered system allows industry partners to plan for remediation or the safe release of treated water at regulated levels.
PFAS removal is an enormous global problem. In the US alone, the addressable market is approximately $160B. Incumbent technologies rely on passing massive amounts of contaminated water through large systems that process and bind the PFAS chemically, leaving large volumes of highly toxic media such as activated carbon or resin. In collaboration with OPEC Systems, we are exploring a more elegant approach, a physicochemical process called Foam Fractionation.
This is essentially an industrial-scale air bubbler, similar in principle to those found in fish tanks, and exploits the PFAS molecule’s unique hydrophilic/hydrophobic properties to bind the molecule to the air bubble allowing it to separate and rise to the surface. This creates a highly concentrated PFAS foam that can be skimmed off the top of a column of water. The PFAS is now contained in a more manageable, low volume, high concentration form, with concentration factors that can exceed 2 million to 1! We are actively exploring the addition of biodegradable surfactants to aid in the efficiency and rate of capture, including short-chain PFAS compounds.
In partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks, we are designing experiments at an unprecedented scale to test every enzyme that has the potential to degrade the C-F bond. Using high throughput screening, we are looking at both bacterial and fungal pathways – the latter being well-documented in its ability to break down complex carbon molecules. If necessary we are prepared to use Nature’s best enzymes as templates to synthesize even more effective enzymes to address this challenge.
It’s this comprehensive approach to PFAS along with access to the resources and collaborative partnerships that sets our technology apart.