OPEC Systems, the Aussie company with the tech to tackle PFAS contamination

OPEC Systems, the Aussie company with the tech to tackle PFAS contamination

As Shine Lawyers (ASX: SHJ) launched one of the country's largest class actions last week over the impact of toxic firefighting foam PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl) on 40,000 Australians, a company from northern NSW was receiving accolades for its efforts to fight the problem.

Lennox Heads-based OPEC Systems won the top prize at the Australian Technologies Competition held at the MCG on 29 October 2019.

The company describes its Surface Active Foam Fractionation technology (SAFF) a game changer for PFAS remediation with acclaim for its all-round global potential by award organisers.

"Like a lot of the small business success stories, OPEC Systems is an overnight success that's been twenty years in the making," said OPEC Systems managing director Pete Murphy after receiving the award.

"While we have been working on this technology for several years, it's an interesting alignment that we were recognised for our innovation in PFAS remediation on the same day that the largest class action in Australia's history for PFAS contamination was announced."

The company, whose acronym stands for Oil Pollution and Environmental Control, also has offices in Sydney, Western Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Brisbane and Townsville, as well as Larbert and Manchester in the UK.

"Our objective has always been to create a simple, replicable and low-cost solution that produces a miniscule amount of waste with zero environmental harm," Murphy said.

"SAFF leverages the natural physiochemistry of PFAS molecules to bond to the surface of air bubbles and is an efficient, sustainable and rapid system in comparison to other technologies."

He said PFAS contamination was a problem worldwide, but Australia had emerged as a leader in the space.

"The rest of the world is looking on with interest," he said.

"SAFF is the only physical separation process for PFAS remediation which has proven successful on a commercial scale anywhere in the world."

The heart of SAFF technology is its use of fine air bubbles to collect and remove PFAS. Using air, the priority PFAS compounds are floated to the surface and 'foamed' out, with water purified to below drinking water guidelines and target PFAS compounds removed to below detectable limits.

The modular and scalable properties of SAFF mean that it can be easily transported and upsized for large volume remediation.

OPEC's PFAS remediation technology was one of only three selected from hundreds of applicants to construct a full-scale water treatment plant at Army Aviation Centre in Oakey, QLD. The site became operational in April 2019 and is capable of processing over 250,000 litres of PFAS impacted groundwater daily.

Pete Murphy said that simply making the final sixteen from more than 200 original entries at the Australian Technology Competition was an honour given the inventiveness on show in areas such as software development and both medical and agricultural technology.

"These latest awards come hot on the heels of our recent award as Defence Innovator of the Year at the Australian Defence Industry Awards in early October, so our profile is gathering serious momentum on the world stage.

"While awards of this nature are enormously gratifying, they also acknowledge the commitment of our entire team. We've had to back ourselves through some lean times and retain faith in the concept.

"Aside from the obvious commercial reasons, we've stuck at it as we recognise the extent of global PFAS contamination, and that our efforts offer real hope for communities living near PFAS plumes."

The NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 1,000 sites in the state that have been affected by PFAS, and there are thousands of hot spot sites across Australia.

The presence of PFAS comes from sustained and concentrated use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) at fire training sites between the 1960s and the early 2000s.

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