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Sedimentation is the partial separation or
concentration of suspended solid particles from a
liquid by gravity settling. This field may be divided
into the functional operations of thickening and

increase the concentration of remove
suspended solids in a feed quantity of suspended particles
and produce a clear effluent
Purpose designed for the heavier-duty ensure
requirements imposed by a large suspended-solids removal
concentrated pulp
Source: Perrys Chemical Engineers Handbook, 8th Edition
As settling of solids in sedimentation is caused by the effect of gravity,
difference of density between the solids and the suspended liquid is a necessary
prerequisite. Also, it may be implied that the governing equations describing the
process will be the Stokes Law equation

( )


terminal velocity


particle density

fluid density

acceleration due to gravity

viscosity of the fluid


and the related equations for sedimentation in the different settling regime
For the Stokes region:

For the Transition region:

For the Newton region:



Range of Motion


Stokes region


Transition region 2 to 500

Newton region

> 500

Source: Reviewer for Chemical Engineering Licensure Examination, 2nd edition

Predicting the settling behavior of particles within a liquid in real
sedimentation system is, however, rather complicated because there are many
factors involved in the process. Among these factors, the distance from the
boundaries of the container and from other particles, can be mentioned as
critical in affecting settling. Both of these mentioned factors are directly related


to the concentrations of solids of the feed stream taken to a given sedimentation


Free Settling
any given particle is at sufficient
distance from the boundaries of the
vessel or from other particles so that its
fall is not affected by them
the relation of the diameter of particle
to the diameter of the sedimentation
vessel is over 1:200

Hindered Settling
the motion of the particle is impeded
by other particles, which will happen if
the particles are near each other even
they may not actually be colliding
the drag coefficient is greater than
that in free settling

where u is the settling velocity at

concentration C and us is the settling
the solids concentration by volume is velocity of a single particle
less than 0.2%
The relationship above applies only to
flocculation, and where all particles
are of uniform density.
Source: Unit Operations of Particulate Solids
Applications of settling and sedimentation include (Geankoplis, 2003):
Removal of solids from liquid sewage wastes
Settling of crystals from the mother liquor
Separation of liquid-liquid mixture from a solvent extraction stage in a settler
Settling of solid food particles from a liquid food
Settling of a slurry from a soybean leaching process
The particles can be solid particles or liquid drops. The fluid can be a liquid
or gas and it may be at rest or in motion.


History of Sedimentation
200 B. C.

Crushing and washing ores in Egypt


Agricola described settling tanks used as classifiers, jigs, thickeners

and settling ponds that were operated in a batch or semicontinuous manner


Hazen analyzed factors affecting the settling of solid particles

from dilute suspensions in water
John V. N. Dorr invented the continuous thickener
R.T. Mishler showed by experiments that the rate of settling of
slimes is different for dilute than for concentrated suspensions
Clark carefully measured concentrations in a thickener with
conical bottom
Coe and Clevenger recognized that the settling process of a


flocculent suspension gives rise to four different and welldistinguishable zones

E. W. Comings published a paper which was first to show


remarkably accurate measurements of solids concentration

profiles in a continuous thickener

Source: Sedimentation and suspension flows: Historical perspective and some

recent developments (2001)


Sedimentation Rate Stages

To analyze sedimentation in greater detail, the events occurring in a small
scale experiment conducted batch-wise as shown in Figure 1, can be observed.

Figure 1. Progressive settling in a measuring cylinder: (A) clear liquid, (B) sludge
at initial concentration, (C) transition zone, (D) thick sludge at compression zone
Particles in a narrow range will settle with about the same velocity. When
this occurs, a demarcation line is observed between the supernatant clear liquid
(zone A) and the slurry (zone B) as the process continues. The velocity at which
this demarcation line descends through the column indicates the progress of the
sedimentation process. The particles near the bottom of the cylinder pile up,
forming a concentrated sludge (zone D) whose weight increases as the particles
settle from zone B. As the upper interface approaches the sludge buildup on the
bottom of the container, the slurry appears more uniform as a heavy sludge (zone
D), the settling zone B disappears, and the process from then on consists only of
the continuation of the slow compaction of the solids in zone D.
By measuring the interface height and solids concentrations in the dilute
and concentrated suspensions, a graphic representation of the sedimentation
process can be prepared as shown in Figure 1. The plot shows the difference in
interface height plotted against time, which is proportional to the rate of settling
as well as to concentration.


Figure 2. Sedimentation rate graph

Sedimentation is faster in liquids having low viscosities. Thus, sedimentation
rates are higher at elevated temperatures. An increase in the process rate may
be achieved by increasing particle sizes through the use of coagulation or
agglomeration, or by adding an electrolyte in the case of colloidal suspensions.
The primary function of a continuous thickener is to concentrate suspended
solids by gravity settling so that a steady-state material balance is achieved, solids
being withdrawn continuously in the underflow at the rate they are supplied in
the feed.
A thickener has several basic components:
a tank to contain the slurry;
feed piping and a feedwell to allow the feed stream to enter the tank;
a rake mechanism to assist in moving the concentrated solids to the
withdrawal points;
an underflow solids-withdrawal system; and
an overflow launder.



Figure 3. Continuous thickener

The slurry is fed at the center of the tank several feet below the surface of
the liquid. Around the top edge of the tank is a clear-liquid-overflow outlet. The
rake serves to scrape the sludge toward the center of the bottom for removal.
This gentle stirring aids in removing water from the sludge.
In the thickener, the entering slurry spread radially through the cross section
of the thickener and the liquid flows upward and out the overflow. The solids settle
in the upper zone by free settling. Below this dilute settling zone is the transition
zone, in which the concentration of solids increases rapidly, and then the
compression zone. A clear overflow can be obtained if the upward velocity of
the fluid in the dilute zone is less than the minimal terminal settling velocity of the
solids in this zone.
The settling rates are quite slow in the thickened zone, which consists of a
compression of the solids with liquid being forced upward through the solids. This
is an extreme case of hindered settling.


Thickener Types



Has great capacity due

solely to the effective use of
flocculant to maximize
Uses a tall, deep tank with a
steep bottom cone and may
be used with or without a
raking mechanism
Is generally one-half to onethird the diameter of a highrate thickener


Designed to produce
underflows having very high
apparent viscosity
Underflow slurries will be at a
higher concentration than for
high-rate thickeners

Continuous clarifiers generally are employed with dilute suspensions, principally
industrial process streams and domestic municipal wastes, and their primary
purpose is to produce a relatively clear overflow. They are basically identical to
thickeners in design and layout except that they employ a mechanism of lighter
construction and a drive head with a lower torque capability. These differences
are permitted in clarification applications because the thickened pulp produced
is smaller in volume and appreciably lower in suspended solids concentration,
owing in part to the large percentage of relatively fine (smaller than 10 m) solids.


Clarifier Types


Employed primarily in municipal

water and waste treatment
plants, as well as in certain
industrial plants, also for waste


Equipped with a surfaceskimming

includes a rotating skimmer,
scum baffle, and scum-box



Serve as thickeners, achieving

additional densification in a
deep sludge sump adjacent to
the center that extends a short
distance radially and provides
adequate retention time and
pulp depth to compact the
solids to a high density
Use an aeration basin for the
bio-oxidation step and a
secondary clarifier to produce
a clear effluent and to
concentrate the biomass for
recycling to the basin


Contain a multiplicity of plates

inclined at 45 to 60 from the


Generally permit the highest

overflow rate at a minimum
producing the best effluent


Design and Selection Factors

Sedimentation equipment can be divided into batch-operated settling
tanks and continuously operated thickeners or clarifiers. The operation of the
former is very simple and their use has recently diminished. They are still used,
however, when small quantities of liquids are to be treated. Most sedimentation
processes operate in continuous units.
I. Thickeners
Thickeners are designed by the traditional Coe and Clevenger, or Talmage
and Fitch procedures (Fitch, 1975), which use batch-settling data to evaluate the
whole concentration range right up to the underflow concentration, even though
a batch-settling test cannot possibly simulate the continuous-thickener process.

Figure 4. Design curves for thickeners: (a) total flux versus concentration, and (b)
settling flux versus concentration










concentration, as shown in Figure 4 (a). The concentration of the solids

continuously increases from the feed value Cf, to the underflow concentration Cu.
The total flux plot goes through a minimum (the critical flux Gc) on which the
design area A is based, according to a mass balance, on the following relation:



where Q is the mass flow rate of particles by volume.

The total flux plot depends not only on the settling characteristics of the
solids, but also on the selected underflow concentration because total flux
includes the transport flux, or dead flux, contributed by movement of particles
downward as underflow is withdrawn. The plot can be made independent of Cu
by subtracting the transport flux contribution from Gc, and plotting the resultant
settling flux Gs, as done in Figure 4 (b). A line drawn tangentially from the selected
Cu value to the undersize of the settling flux curve will intercept the y-axis at the
same Gc value.
The settling flux curve can be constructed directly from batch settling tests
carried out at several different concentrations in the zone settling regime (Coe
and Clevenger method), or from just one test curve (Talmage and Fitch method)
by converting the u = f(C) data into settling flux by the formula:

The Coe and Clevenger test overestimates the critical flux leading to
underdesign of thickener area, while the Talmage and Fitch procedure
underestimates it leading to overdesign. The latter procedure is less laborious
because it only requires one settling test.

Figure 5. Mass balance on sedimentation unit



The thickener area can also be determined using a mass balance of the
whole sedimentation process. Referring to the diagram in Figure 5, let F be the
mass flow rate of solids in the feed, U the mass flow rate of solids in the underflow,
O the mass flow rate of solids in the overflow, XF the fraction of solids in the feed,
XU the fraction of solids in the underflow, 1 XF the fraction of liquid in the feed,
and 1 XU the fraction of liquid in the underflow.
The mass balances of liquid and solids in the process can be represented

It can be demonstrated that

For the limiting conditions of producing a clear overflow, the terminal settling
velocity of the particles ut should be equal to the ascending velocity of the liquid
u, so that

Substituting into the equations, transposing for A and calling it minimum area Amin:

II. Clarifiers
Clarifier performance depends on area, which is determined by the
flocculation nature of the feed suspension. When the overflow clarity is
independent of overflow rate and depends only on detention time, the required
time is determined by simple laboratory testing of residual solid concentrations in



the supernatant versus detention time under the conditions of mild shear. This
determination is sometimes called the second-order test procedure because the
flocculation process follows a second-order reaction rate. In most cases, clarifying
performance depends on detention time and overflow rate. Tests are conducted
in a vertical tube that is as long as the expected depth of the clarifier, under the
ideal assumption that a vertical element of a suspension, which has been
clarified, maintains its shape as it moves across the tank.
If the suspension is nonflocculant, or if flocculation takes place prior to
settling, the overflow clarity is independent of detention time and depends only
on the overflow rate Q according to the relation:

in this case the settling velocity ut is expressed by

where ut is the maximum particle settling velocity that yields a satisfactory clarity
in a simple laboratory sedimentation test, H is the height of the laboratory
container, and t is the time in which the supernatant liquid becomes clear.
For nonflocculant suspensions, gravity clarifiers are sometimes used as for
solids classification. The theoretical grade efficiency curve G(x) of the clarifier can
be predicted, assuming laminar flow and no end effects, by

where ut is a function of particle size and can be found if Stokes law applies.



Problem on Textbook (Unit Operations of Particulate Solids)

A 25% solids concentrated suspension contains particles of approximate
spherical shape of an insoluble food powder. The mean size of the particles is 50
m and their density is 2002 kg/m3. Calculate the settling velocity of such particles
in water at room temperature.
Due to the size and density of particles, a reasonably assumption would be settling
within the Stokes law region. The terminal settling velocity is

(5 105 )2 2 (2002 1000) 3 (9.81) 2

2 ( )

= 0.001365 /

18 (0.001)
Verifying the applicability of the chosen sedimentation region, by calculating the
particle Reynolds number:

(5 105 ) (1000) 3 (0.001365)

= 0.06825


The approximation was correct and the settling time is valid. Finally, due to the
high concentration of solids, correction due to this factor is in order. Transposing
for the corrected settling velocity and substituting values, the real settling velocity
= (1 )4.65 = (0.001365)(1 0.25)4.65 = . /



Gravity Settlers
Type 1. Sedimentation
The settling of dilute slurries where there is little particle-to-particle
interaction is commonly referred to as Type I settling. All particles settle
independently; consequently, if a particle size distribution is known and the
settling rate of individual particles is known, then a settler can be designed.

If the terminal velocity (Ut) of the smallest particle to be separated is known or can
be calculated, then the overflow area (A1) can be calculated from the equation

where Qc is the volumetric flow rate of the liquid.

As for gas-liquid and gas-solid systems, the liquid depth must be sufficiently great
to minimize the suspending effects of turbulent liquid flow. The particles will not be
resuspended provided the flow velocity is less than about 20 times the terminal
velocity. To be conservative the flow velocity should be 10 times the particle
terminal velocity. Thus, the flow area (AF) is given by



If the height of the basin is one-third the width,

Problem on Design (Handbook of Separation Process Technology)

For an example of 10 m particles of specific gravity = 3, the terminal velocity is
0.033 ft/s. To separate these particles and all larger particles from a water stream
of 100 ft3/min (833 gal/min), the basin dimensions are calculated as follows:

In actual practice the effects of turbulence and other nonuniform flow

characteristics would necessitate making the basin at least 19 ft long.



Slurries exhibiting Type II behavior are sufficiently thick and flocculent that
the solids tend to settle as a mass, giving a rather sharp line of demarcation
between the clear liquid overflow and the settling solids. For such systems, the
design is normally controlled by the thickening capability of the basin, although
the basin design must be adequate to provide sufficient overflow area to clarify
the liquid overflow.
A settler for Type II slurries is normally referred to as a thickener. They are
sometimes constructed as a rectangular basin; however, most often they are of
circular cross-section. In the rectangular basin, solids are normally removed by a
traveling syphon that moves longitudinally back and forth along the basin. In the
circular design, a raking mechanism is used to convey the settled solids slowly to
the center of the basin where, as with the rectangular basin, a syphon is used for
their removal.
The design methods most commonly used for Type II settlers and thickeners
rely on the taking of experimental data and on empirical analysis of the data to
obtain a design.
Problem on Design (Handbook of Separation Process Technology, 1987)
The settling data for a water-cement slurry, presented by Cremer and Davies
(1957), will be used.



The important independent design parameters are as follows:

The dependent parameters are as follows:

Clark et al. (1971) present the method for determining the surface area large
enough to prevent the rate of liquid rise from exceeding the velocity of
subsidence of the sludge interface:

The subsidence velocity (Vs) for cement slurry Vs = 0.66 ft/h. Then

2363 3 /
= 3580 2

0.66 /

Next, the area required for thickening in the bottom of the basin is determined by
the method explained by Fitch (1971), where H0 is the initial height of the slurry in
the graduated test cylinder:

0 0

The underflow time (tu) for this example is tu = 3.2 h.

(32 3 )(40 )(0.0328084 )

0 0

= 13.1 / 2

(3.2 )

100000 /
= 7625 2

13.1 / 2



It is recommended that this value be multiplied by a safety factory of 1.33; thus,

= 1.33 (7625 2 ) = 10141.25 2 10000 2
The diameter of the circular basin would be
2 4(10000 2 )
2 4

= 113

As in most thickeners the area is determined by the requirement to thicken the

sludge and not by the requirement to clarify the overflow.
The depth of the sludge layer needs to be calculated. Note that the time in the
compression layer is about 5 h. The volumetric flow of the slurry out of the basin
bottom is equal to the total flow to the basin minus the water overflow, that is
(3150 - 2363) = 787 ft3/h. Knowing the flow area (10,000 ft2) and the residence time
(5 h), the depth of the compression layer can be computed:
5 (787

= 0.3935 0.4

10000 2
As Fitch (1971) indicates, the accepted procedure is to use a minimum depth of
3 ft for the sludge layer. This then makes the method conservative because more
compression will be realized in a 3 ft layer than in a 0.4 ft layer.
The total depth is not well defined; however, in this case a total depth of 6-9 ft
would be adequate.
Gravity settlers can be reduced significantly in volume by using multiple parallel
plates spaced about 1 in. apart. The plates are inclined to the vertical so that the
solids will slide off the plates. The minimum area requirement can be computed
for the parallel plate designs by the previously described calculation procedure
for a gravity settling basin. The actual vertical distance is calculated from the
geometry and the residence time is calculated from the flow rate and volume of
the plate stack.



Geankoplis, C. (2003). Principles of Transport Processes and Separation
Processes. Fourth Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Green D. and Perry R. (2008). Perrys Chemical Engineers Handbook. Eighth
Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Rhodes, M. (2008). Introduction to Particle Technology. Second Edition.
England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.