Pollution Prevention and Control Technologies for Plating
Section 6 - Wastewater Treatment
6.2 CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT TECHNOLOGIES
6.2.5 Sludge Dewatering
Dewatering is primarily a physical operation that separates the
liquid and solid portions of the dilute sludge generated during
the precipitation/clarification process. The resulting material
is a stiff fluid. Dewatering is usually performed in a series
of steps utilizing two or more pieces of equipment, with each
subsequent step reducing the percentage of liquid in the sludge
as previously shown in Exhibit 6-1.
In the treatment of metal-bearing wastes, the dewatering process
begins once the dilute sludge is removed from the clarifier. The
sludge from the clarifier of most precipitation processes will
have a solids concentration of 0.5 to 3 percent (ref. 39). Further
sludge concentration is first accomplished by the use of thickening
equipment which will increase the solids content to between 2
and 5 percent. Sludges are thickened primarily to decrease the
capital and operating costs of subsequent sludge processing steps
by substantially reducing the volume. There are three general
methods of thickening:
- Gravity Thickening
- Flotation Thickening
- Centrifugal Thickening
Gravity thickening is by far the most commonly used method in
the metal finishing industry. It can be achieved in a separate
tank or within the clarifier, if it is so designed (ref. 331).
Thickening within the clarifier is achieved at the lowest part
of the clarifier within a sludge storage zone or hopper. Within
the hopper, the sludge is slowly mixed with a motorized rack to
enhance the release of water. Often, a secondary tank is used
to supplement or replace the thickening zone of the clarifier,
especially when extended thickening times are required. These
units are typically designed to store the accumulated solids for
at least 24 hours. Chemicals are sometimes added to aid the thickening
process (e.g., iron and aluminum salts, polymers).
The main design variables to be considered in selecting a thickening
- Solids concentration and volumetric flow rate of the feed
- Chemical demand and cost if chemicals are employed
- Suspended and dissolved solids concentrations and volumetric
flow rate of the clarified stream
- Solids concentration and volumetric flow rate of the thickened
Other variables that impact the selection of a thickening process
are: subsequent processing steps; operation and maintenance (O/M)
cost; and the reliability required to meet successful operational
requirements. Detailed selection, design and operating parameters
for thickening devices can be found in the literature (e.g., ref.
After thickening, further dewatering of the sludge is achieved
through the use of mechanical dewatering and thermal dehydration
devices. The most widely used mechanical dewatering device is
the filter press. Other technologies employed in the metal finishing
industry include vacuum filters (used by only two respondents),
centrifuges and belt presses (latter two not presently used by
any of the respondents). Mechanical dewatering will produce a
sludge with an approximately 10 to 60 percent solids content.
Sludge dryers (Section 6.2.6) are used to further remove moisture
from the sludge and are capable of producing a material with a
90 percent solids content. Increasing the solids content of the
sludge greatly reduces its volume, which in turn reduces transportation
costs and often disposal/recovery costs. The following discussion
focuses on the filter press.
The filter press has a number of advantages over other filtration
equipment such as vacuum filters and centrifuges. Filter presses
can operate well at variable or low feed solids conditions. They
can also produce a relatively dry cake because of the high pressure
differential they can exert on the sludge. A typical filter press
operating at 100 psig will produce a sludge with a solids content
of 25 to 60 percent solids, depending on the chemicals used for
precipitation. As a comparison, the basket centrifuge produces
a sludge with a solids content of 10 to 25 percent and the vacuum
filter produces a sludge with 15 to 40 percent solids (ref. 395).
The disadvantages of the filter press include its batch operating
cycle, the labor associated with removing the cakes from the press,
and the downtime associated with finding and replacing worn or
damaged filter cloths.
The original filter press design consisted of alternating plates
and frames and these types of units were referred to as the plate-and-frame
filter press. The modern technology is the recessed plate filter
press (see Exhibit 6-14). The plates (usually constructed of polypropylene)
are recessed on each side to form cavities and they are covered
with a filter cloth. The two types of presses work in basically
the same manner. At the start of a cycle, a hydraulic pump clamps
the plates tightly together and a feed pump forces a dilute sludge
slurry into the cavities of the plates. The liquid (filtrate)
escapes through the filter cloth and grooves molded into the plates
and is transported by the pressure of the feed pump to a discharge
port. The solids are retained by the cloth and remain in the cavities.
This process continues until the cavities are packed with sludge
solids. The hydraulic pressure is then released and the plates
are separated. The sludge solids or cake is loosened from the
cavities and falls into a hopper or drum.
Under normal to ideal conditions, a filter press subjected to
a 100 psi pumping pressure will produce a cake with a dryness
of approximately 25 to 40 percent solids for caustic soda precipitated
metal hydroxides and 35 to 60 percent solids for lime precipitated
hydroxides (ref. 410). The level of dryness attained depends heavily
on the length of the drying cycle. Altmayer suggests that most
shops only achieve 20 to 25% dry solids and that to reach higher
dryness levels requires a sludge dehydration unit (see Section
6.2.6) (ref. 482).
Modern recessed plate filter presses can be specified with the
following design enhancements (ref. JWI file):
- Lightweight polypropylene plates that exhibit good chemical
resistance and provide a long service life.
- Gasketed plates that reduce leakage during the filtration
cycle. These replace non-gasketed types where the filter cloth
extends beyond the plate to form the seal between plates.
- An air blow-down manifold that is employed at the end of the
filtration cycle to drain remaining liquid in the system, thereby
improving sludge dryness and aiding in the release of the cake.
- Microprocessor control which permits unattended operation
throughout the filtration cycle. Capable of automatically adjusting
the feed pressure and deactivating the pump whenever hydraulic
pressure falls below preset limits.
- Manual, semi-automatic or automatic plate shifters that are
used to separate the plates prior to releasing the sludge cake.
Filter presses are available in a very wide range of capacities.
Respondents to the Vendors Survey sell equipment with a capacity
range of 0.6 ft3 to 200 ft3. A typical operating cycle is from
4 to 8 hr, depending on the dewatering characteristics of the
sludge. Units are usually sized based on one or two cycles per
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