2024 Young Chemist Award Winner

Congratulations to our 12th Annual Young Chemist Award winner, Katelyn Michael!

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research Title: Tandem Electrochemical Advanced Oxidative Processes to Effectively Degrade Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS)

Summary: PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade in the environment due to the strength of their C-F bonds. They have been used in consumer products since the 1940s and are now ubiquitous in drinking water. Without intervention, they pose an environmental and public health challenge because they bioaccumulate. Continuous and/or high exposure has been linked to health issues including increased cholesterol, lower immune response, and some cancers. Another concern is managing PFAS degradation products, because long chain PFAS converts into shorter chain PFAS, which are even harder to destruct.

Electrochemical approaches are believed to be one of the most practical ways to degrade PFAS but suffer from low Faradaic efficiencies (the charge passed is not used for the process of interest) and these harder-to-degrade products persist. Therefore, Katelyn’s research aims to improve the efficacy and efficiency of PFAS degradation by cycling between an activation and degradation step, which results in a more complete degradation. A key aspect of this work is the unique mediated decoupled process to avoid side reactions. Thus far, Katelyn has achieved 80% degradation of 350 ppm PFAS to formate, the shortest fluorine free carbon chain oxidation product, with approximately 40% Faradaic efficiency confirmed via liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry and ion chromatography.