Exploring the factors that influence the adsorption of anionic PFAS on conventional and emerging adsorbents in aquatic matrices

Congyue Wu, Max J. Klemes, Brittany Trang, William R. Dichtel*, Damian E. Helbling*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) have raised great concern due to their ubiquity in aquatic environments, and adsorption technologies are among the most promising treatment solutions. This study investigated the key factors that influence the adsorption of anionic PFASs on conventional and emerging adsorbents. Batch adsorption experiments were conducted to evaluate the removal of 20 target PFASs at environmentally relevant concentrations by three different activated carbon (AC) materials and two different β-cyclodextrin polymers (CDPs). Experiments were conducted in Milli-Q water and in groundwater. Major physical properties of the adsorbents were measured, along with general water chemistry parameters for each groundwater sample. Principal component analysis (PCA) was subsequently employed to extract the important associations from the multivariate dataset. The distinct performances of ACs and CDPs were attributed to their different surface chemistry and the distinct nature of their adsorption binding sites. Hydrophobic interactions dominated PFAS adsorption onto ACs while CDPs mostly attracted anionic PFASs via favorable electrostatic interactions. ACs of a smaller average particle size performed better, with our data pointing to an increased external specific surface area as the likely reason. pH and the concentration of cations were the primary contributors to adsorption inhibition in groundwater. Higher pH values limit anionic PFAS adsorption by deprotonating the functional groups on adsorbent surfaces. The elevated levels of cations in some groundwater samples limited the effects of attractive electrostatic interactions. Knowledge of PFAS adsorption mechanisms gained from this study can be used to design more efficient adsorbents and to predict their performance under a range of environmental scenarios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115950
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Activated carbon
  • Adsorption
  • Adsorption inhibition
  • Cyclodextrin polymer
  • Groundwater matrix
  • PFAS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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