Flocculation of fine particles with polyethylene oxide: a proposed mechanism

Scheiner, B ; Stanley, D. A.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 3
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1987
Introduction Treatment of ores to recover metal and mineral values results in waste materials usually in the form of dilute slurries. The US Bureau of Mines (USBM) investigated a technique for dewatering phosphatic clay waste by flocculating with polyethylene oxide (PEO) and dewatering the resulting floes on a static screen and/or trommel screen (Schemer et al., 1985). In the investigation, it was determined that PEO was far superior to polyacrylamide polymers for this type of dewatering. This paper discusses reasons for this superior performance. Comparison of PEO with polyacrylamides Dewatering experiments were conducted by adding PEO solution from a burette to a stirred clay slurry. The dewatering endpoint was characterized by rotation of the floc mass as a unit, a clear supernate, a maximum floc size, and a minimum floc volume. Additional water was removed from the floes by hand squeezing (Schemer et al., 1985). The clays investigated were sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and aluminum exchanged montmorillonite and attapulgite. Nine commercially available (Superfloc) polyacrylamides were compared with PEO at two polymer concentrations. Results are summarized in Table 1. The solids content of the dewatered clays ranged between 24% and 33% and was highest for PEO-treated material. These results and the data in Table 1 indicate that PEO is superior to polyacrylamide in terms of polymer dosage required. Superflocs 16 through 128, like PEO, are nonionic and should give similar results to those for PEO if the flocculation mechanism is the same for both type polymers. Superflocs 204 through 214 are anionic with increasing anionic character from 204 to 214. Generally, the anionic polymers gave the best results for the polyacrylamides tested, but in terms of dosage they were not as good as PEO. Correlation between flocculation and dewaterability of waste slurries The overall mechanism for mechanically induced clay dewatering is not completely known, but certain observations can be made. For instance, when a polymer is adsorbed on a clay such as montmorillonite, the polymer desorbs interlayer water. Polymer adsorption is driven by favorable entropy changes associated with this water desorption. It is also known that the -CH2-CH2- links of the PEO chain are sufficiently hydrophobic to lead to physical adsorption of the polymer (Theng, 1979). For montmorillonite slurries, the sheet-like fundamental particles, called tactoids, consist of a small, variable number of aluminosilicate layers together with interlayer water and exchange ions. The flocculation process consists of adsorption of polymer on the tactoid. Loops and tails of polymer that extend into solution then adsorb on another tactoid, forming a bridge. Mechanical action, induced by hand squeezing or in a trammel, joins the bridged tactoids face-to-face and edge-to-edge to form regions of high density. Similar orientation effects are observed for the needle-like attapulgite crystals (Schemer et al., 1985). Proposed flocculation model Generally, statements concerning flocculation and dewaterability apply to both PEO and the polyacrylamides. However, PEO has additional interaction with the clay material when compared with polyacrylamides. PEO is a polymer with repeating -CH2-CH2-O- groups and interacts with montmorillonite through a water bridge whose strength is greatly influenced by the exchange ion. To obtain insight into this interaction, a series of experiments were conducted in which different ion exchange forms of montmorillonite and attapulgite clays
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