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Geomembranes Containing Powdered Activated Carbon Have the Potential to Improve Containment of Chlorinated Aromatic Contaminants

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journal contribution
posted on 01.12.2009, 00:00 by Erin M. Surdo, Edward L. Cussler, Paige J. Novak, William A. Arnold
Breakthrough across high-density polyethylene (HDPE) was measured for 2,3′,4′,5-tetrachlorobiphenyl and a higher-solubility surrogate, 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene. Addition of powdered activated carbon (0.14 g carbon/cm3 membrane) reduced pseudo-steady-state flux through thin HDPE membranes by approximately 60%. Breakthrough curves for activated carbon-containing membranes were best described by a model in which sorption to the carbon was limited by the rate of diffusion from the bulk membrane to the carbon particle surfaces. Field-scale estimates based on this model show a substantial (over 10 orders of magnitude) reduction in flux for the activated carbon-containing HDPE compared with pure HDPE. The flux of 2,3′,4′,5-tetrachlorobiphenyl through a composite membrane with thin layers of poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) with 0.05 g carbon/cm3 and pure HDPE was 69% lower than expected for a similar layered membrane without the sorptive scavenger. This flux reduction was achieved with less than a third of the carbon used in the HDPE case, an improvement that is likely the result of better solute uptake in the hydrophilic PVA layer.