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Innovative Ways to Destroy PFAS Challenge

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been widely used for more than 60 years to make plastics, firefighting foams, and lubricants, and to help make products stain-resistant, waterproof, and nonstick. Newer forms of PFAS have been adopted over the past few years to replace older forms of PFAS compounds that were discontinued. Addressing and managing PFAS in the environment is one of the most pressing issues facing EPA, states and regions. This issue is particularly challenging because PFAS chemicals have a very strong carbon-fluorine chemical bond that leads to persistence in the environment and makes their complete destruction difficult. Given the ubiquitous nature of PFAS and increasing public concerns, EPA and its state, tribal, local and federal partners are looking for greater certainty when making decisions about disposal and treatment of PFAS containing materials and PFAS contaminated media/waste. PFAS compounds are found at different concentrations in various waste streams including aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), bio-solids, ground water, sludge and soil.

There is an urgent need to better understand PFAS and to develop efficient, cost-effective solutions to manage and/or destroy PFAS contaminated media and waste.

The Challenge

EPA is partnering with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP); the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) and the Environmental Research Institute of the States (ERIS); Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy; and Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, to co-sponsor a technical challenge regarding the destruction of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The challenge asks solvers to submit detailed plans for a non-thermal way of destroying PFAS in concentrated film forming foam (AFFF), while creating the least amount of potentially harmful byproducts.  

Currently, EPA is investigating all methods of destroying PFAS. Incineration has been used to treat PFAS-contaminated media, and EPA scientists are collaborating with the private sector to evaluate the effectiveness of thermal treatment technologies to completely destroy PFAS. The goal of this challenge is to discover new non-thermal technologies and approaches that can remove at least 99 percent of PFAS in unused AFFF, without creating any harmful byproducts. Although PFAS compounds can be found in various waste streams, the challenge is focused on unused AFFF.

The challenge is intended to encourage the development of new approaches, technologies, or technology combinations that meet the following objectives:

  • Must be applicable for use on unspent aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) from unused AFFF concentrates containing 3 percent and/or 6 percent PFAS;
  • Must destroy at least 99 percent of the PFAS in the unused AFFF concentrates, including PFAS byproducts that may form by volatilization, particulates, and leaching from effluents;
  • Must demonstrate scalability and cost effectiveness for a defined quantity over thermal methods used to treat the same waste stream (AFFF).

Additional features that are desired (but not required) of submitted PFAS destruction technologies/ approaches:

  • Demonstrates compatibility with current production and destruction practices;
  • Avoids creating other toxic residues after destruction of PFAS, including hazardous chemicals identified in EPA’s ToxCast database;
  • Is currently accessible in the marketplace or near-market ready.

The ideal technology would:

  • Perform onsite destruction of at least 99 percent of PFAS in AFFF formulations;
  • Be currently on the market or near market;
  • Destroy parent PFAS compounds;
  • Destroy short-chain PFAS byproducts (e.g., CF4) if volatilization occurs;
  • Destroy or neutralize any unwanted byproducts (e.g., HF) that would need to be incinerated or landfilled in a hazardous waste facility;
  • Be more cost effective than thermal destruction;
  • Have good environmental and public health outcomes (e.g., does not transfer PFAS or any unwanted byproducts into other media);
  • Be potentially applicable to other PFAS waste streams (e.g., biosolids, contaminated ground water, etc).

Solvers are not required to give up any of their intellectual property (“IP”) rights to the Seeker to be eligible to receive an award.

Challenge Partners: 

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  • The Seeker may award a total prize award pool of $50,000. The minimum full award amount is $30,000. The Seeker can allocate higher individual award amounts, as deemed appropriate. The Challenge award will be contingent upon results of critical analysis and evaluation by the Seeker. Meeting the Technical Requirements does not guarantee that the proposed solution will receive an award from the Seeker. Partial cash prizes may be considered for solutions that meet some, but not all, of the criteria.
  • Winning solvers may have the added potential opportunity for field testing of the winning design concept(s) in partnership with EPA and DoD’s ESTCP.

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Important dates and Upcoming Webinars

  • Challenge Start Date: August 25, 2020
  • Challenge End Date: November 23, 2020 - this challenge is now closed for applications.
  • Winners to be announced in early 2021

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  • Winning Solvers must certify they do not have identical or essentially equivalent work currently funded by a Federal agency.
  • Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment should consult his or her ethics official before participating in the Challenge.
  • Solvers are not required to give up any of their intellectual property (“IP”) rights to the Seeker to be eligible to receive an award.
  • Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on November 23, 2020.
  • Late submissions will not be considered.

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Judging Criteria:

After the Challenge submission deadline, a Judging Panel will evaluate the submissions and make a decision with regard to the winning solution(s). The Judging Panel may be composed of federal and/or non-federal scientists, engineers, and other technical experts, including subject matter experts from the listed partners for this Challenge. All persons or entities that submit a proposal will be notified as to the status of their submission and a high-level evaluation. Decisions by the Seekers cannot be contested.

Submissions will be judged by how well they address the challenge requirements detailed in the “Challenge” section above.

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Terms and Conditions

​See InnoCentive websiteExit for Terms and Conditions of challenge.

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If you have questions about the Innovative Ways to Destroy PFAS Challenge, please submit your question through the InnoCentive website.Exit

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