Photo of Associate Professors Brian Barringer and Ann Impullitti (left) working with UW-Stevens Point students on researching how hemp plants can be used to remove synthetic materials from soil.

Associate Professors Brian Barringer and Ann Impullitti (left) work with UW-Stevens Point students on researching how hemp plants can be used to remove synthetic materials from soil.

Five faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a collaborator at UW-Madison were awarded one of three 2023 Universities of Wisconsin Innovation Grants for research on phytoremediation, the removal of synthetic materials from soil using living plants.

The group’s proposal, Phytoremediation of PFAS in Wisconsin Soils using Hemp and Alfalfa, was funded $175,000, to be split between two years from January 2024 through December 2025. After the funding period, the faculty members will issue a progress report detailing the status of the project, work completed and the team’s vision for future research or project development.

From this year’s three finalists, a review panel will select a “big idea” winner to receive additional funding totaling up to $400,000 distributed over three years. Recipients will also be invited to a future UW Board of Regents meeting to present their winning proposal and its projected outcomes.

The research team includes UW-Stevens Point faculty Associate Professor Brian Barringer, biology; Associate Professor Ann Impullitti, biology; Associate Professor Joseph Mondloch, chemistry; Associate Professor Shannon Riha, chemistry; and Associate Professor Bryant Scharenbroch, soil and waste resources; and from UW-Madison, Assistant Professor Shelby Ellison, plant and agroecosystem sciences.

The team will conduct research on the ability of hemp and alfalfa plants to remove PFAS from soil, determining how and where it is stored in plant tissues and how soil quality influences PFAS remediation (removal). PFAS are man-made chemicals used in industrial applications and have been correlated with a number of health problems. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had identified over 100 sites around the state that are known to be contaminated with PFAS or are under investigation for PFAS remediation.

With PFAS becoming a growing topic of concern, the group saw this a great opportunity, said Barringer, as most have worked on cannabis-related projects together over the years.

“We are thrilled about the amazing opportunities that we will be able to offer our students while working on this project,” said Barringer. “Our group has extensive experience training students in research methodology and analysis, and much of the basic and applied research in this proposal will be completed by undergraduate students. Students will be directly involved in all aspects of the work.”

“We are very excited to see this proposal’s future development and how its innovations will positively affect the Universities of Wisconsin, Wisconsin citizens and communities, and the state’s economic growth,” said Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman.

Written by UW-Stevens Point

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