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Coagulation and flocculation In water and waste-water treatment practice, the terms coagulation and flocculation are not

synonymous. Coagulation is used to describe the initial process whereby the original colloid dispersion is destabilized, principally by charge neutralization. Flocculation describes the subsequent process whereby the destabilized colloids in the micron and sub-micron size range undergo aggregation and particle growth into millimetre-sized flocs.

The coagulation process consists of three sequential steps: coagulant formation, colloid/particle destabilization, and particle aggregation. Coagulant formation and colloid/ particle

destabilization are promoted in a rapid-mixing stage where treatment chemicals are added and dispersed throughout the water to be treated. Particle aggregation (floc formation) is then promoted in a flocculation stage where inter-particle collisions create large floc particles amenable to separation from the treated water.

Important note: Coagulation usually completes in a very short period of time (e.g. about 10 s), whereas flocculation occurs usually over a period of 20 to 45 min.

The Coagulants Metal coagulants

The metal ion coagulants commonly used in potable water treatment are based on either aluminium or iron, notably: aluminium sulphate (often referred to as alum is the one most widely used for water treatment during the past decades), ferri-aluminium sulphate (referred to as FAS), ferric sulphate and ferric chloride (often referred to as ferric). Metal coagulants are commercially available, depending on what it actually is, either or both as liquids or in solids forms (powder, granules or block). The physical and chemical properties of these chemicals should be obtained from the manufacturers. Most are acidic as concentrated solutions.

Note that coagulation with metal salts precipitates dissolved high molecular weight organic substances that are associated with colour. These substances are also associated with the formation of undesirable byproducts of disinfection by chlorine and therefore their removal by coagulation before subsequent chlorination is beneficial.

Pre-polymerized inorganic coagulants

When ordinary metal coagulants are added to water they form a range of polynuclear hydroxide species. The rate of dispersion, pH and coagulant dose determine which species are formed and are effective for treatment. A purpose of developing pre-polymerized metal coagulants was to produce the appropriate hydrolysis species. The main advantage of these, especially for the aluminium based products, is that their effectiveness is less sensitive to water temperature and optimisation of pH. In some situations a lower dosage may be possible. A key feature of pre-polymerized metal coagulants is their basicity ratio. The basicity ratio is the molar ratio of hydroxide ions bound per mole of metal ion and is controlled by how the product is prepared. As basicity ratio increases the acidity of the product decreases and thus the less the alkalinity consumption by the product and the less the pH reduction of the treated water. Pre-polymerized metal coagulants available commercially include: polyaluminium chloride (PACl), polyaluminum silicate sulphate (PASS) and polyaluminum silicate chloride (PASC). Polymerized ferric and aluminium-ferric coagulants are also possible.

The flocculants PoIymers are a large range of natural or synthetic, water soluble, macromolecular compounds that have the ability to destabilize or enhance flocculation of the constituents of a body of water.

Although natural polyelectrolytes have the advantage of being toxic-free, the use of synthetic polyelectrolytes is more widespread. They are in general more effective as flocculants, principally due to the possibility of controlling properties, such as the number and type of charged units and the molecular weight. Moreover, they are much cheaper, than those made from natural sources.

References pts/1998/03/WaterSA_1998_03_jul98_p237.pdf