OPEC Systems: Australian Technology Company of the Year!

OPEC Systems was enormously proud to be named ‘Australian Technology Company of the Year’ for our innovation in environmental remediation at the 2019 Australian Technologies Competition in Melbourne, sponsored by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. Before taking out the overall award, the company received the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Award.

“Like a lot of the small business success stories, OPEC Systems is an overnight success that’s been 20 years in the making,” said Managing Director Pete Murphy.

“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,” he said.

OPEC’s Surface Active Foam Fractionation technology (SAFF) is a game changer for PFAS remediation and has been acclaimed for its all-round global potential by award organisers.

“PFAS contamination is a problem worldwide, but Australia has emerged as a leader in this space and the rest of the world is looking on with interest,” Murphy said.

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

“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. 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.”

SAFF technology uses 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, Oakey. This site became operational in April 2019 and is capable of processing over 250,000 litres of PFAS-impacted groundwater daily.

Murphy said that making the final 16 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.

PFAS is an international problem. The EPA has identified more than 1000 sites in NSW alone, and there are thousands of hotspot sites across Australia and hundreds of thousands worldwide. Its presence relates primarily to sustained and concentrated use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) at fire training sites between the 1960s and the early 2000s.

Within the human body, PFAS substances bind to fat proteins and are retained for a prolonged period. Some studies in humans have suggested that PFAS may affect the development of foetuses and young children leading to possible growth, learning or behaviour problems.1 Other studies have pointed to possible links to cancer,2 immune system disorders,3 thyroid dysfunction and fertility problems.

According to NSW Health, people living in PFAS-affected regions are advised to: avoid using groundwater or surface water for drinking or cooking; avoid swallowing ground or surface water when swimming/bathing; avoid eating homegrown food such as vegetables, fruits, home-slaughtered meat and poultry, eggs and milk cultivated from contaminated water; and modify intake of fish and seafood from contaminated areas.