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Chapter: Environmental Engineering : Water Treatment

Resin Fouling And Degradation

Resin can become fouled with contaminants that hinder the exchange process.Figure shows a resin fouled with iron. The resin can also be attacked by chemicals that cause irreversible destruction.




Resin can become fouled with contaminants that hinder the exchange process.Figure shows a resin fouled with iron. The resin can also be attacked by chemicals that cause irreversible destruction. Some materials, such as natural organics (Figure), foul resins at first and then degrade the resin as time passes. This is the most common cause of fouling and degradation in ion exchange systems, and is discussed under "Organic Fouling," later in this chapter.


Causes of Resin Fouling


Iron and Manganese. Iron may exist in water as a ferrous or ferric inorganic salt or as a sequestered organic complex. Ferrous iron exchanges in resin, but ferric iron is insoluble and does not. Ferric iron coats cation resin, preventing exchange. An acid or a strong reducing agent must be used to remove this iron. Organically bound iron passes through a cation unit and fouls the anion resin. It must be removed along with the organic material. Manganese, present in some well waters, fouls a resin in the same manner as iron.


Aluminum. Aluminum is usually present as aluminum hydroxide, resulting from alum or sodium aluminate use in clarification or precipitation softening. Aluminum floc, if carried through filters, coats the resin in a sodium zeolite softener. It is removed by cleaning with either acid or caustic. Usually, aluminum is not a foulant in a demineralizer system, because it is removed from the resin during a normal regeneration.


Hardness Precipitates. Hardness precipitates carry through a filter from a precipitation softener or form after filtration by post-precipitation. These precipitates foul resins used for sodium zeolite softening. They are removed with acid.


Sulfate Precipitation. Calcium sulfate precipitation can occur in a strong acid cation unit operated in the hydrogen cycle. At the end of a service cycle, the top of the resin bed is rich in calcium. If sulfuric acid is used as the regenerant, and it is introduced at too high a concentration or too low a flow rate, precipitation of calcium sulfate occurs, fouling the resin. After calcium sulfate has formed, it is very difficult to redissolve; therefore, resin fouled by calcium sulfate is usually discarded. Mild cases of calcium sulfate fouling may be reversed with a prolonged soak in hydrochloric acid.


Barium sulfate is even less soluble than calcium sulfate. If a water source contains measurable amounts of barium, hydrochloric acid regeneration should be considered.


Oil Fouling. Oil coats resin, blocking the passage of ions to and from exchange sites. A surfactant can be used to remove oil. Care must be exercised to select a surfactant that does not foul resin. Oil-fouled anion resins should be cleaned with nonionic surfactants only.


Microbiological Fouling. Microbiological fouling can occur in resin beds, especially beds that are allowed to sit without service flow. Microbiological fouling can lead to severe plugging of the resin bed, and even mechanical damage due to an excessive pressure drop across the fouled resin. If microbiological fouling in standby units is a problem, a constant flow of recirculating water should be used to minimize the problem. Severe conditions may require the application of suitable sterilization agents and surfactants.


Silica Fouling. Silica fouling can occur in strong base anion resins if the regenerant temperature is too low, or in weak base resins if the effluent caustic from the SBA unit used to regenerate the weak base unit contains too much silica. At low pH levels, polymerization of the silica can occur in a weak base resin. It can also be a problem in an exhausted strong base anion resin. Silica fouling is removed by a prolonged soak in warm (120 o F) caustic soda.

Causes of Irreversible Resin Degradation


Oxidation. Oxidizing agents, such as chlorine, degrade both cation and anion resins. Oxidants attack the divinylbenzene cross-links in a cation resin, reducing the overall strength of the resin bead. As the attack continues, the cation resin begins to lose its spherical shape and rigidity, causing it to compact during service. This compaction increases the pressure drop across the resin bed and leads to channeling, which reduces the effective capacity of the unit.


In the case of raw water chlorine, the anion resin is not directly affected, because the chlorine is consumed by the cation resin. However, downstream strong base anion resins are fouled by certain degradation products from oxidized cation resin.


If chlorine is present in raw water, it should be removed prior to ion exchange with activated carbon filtration or sodium sulfite. Approximately 1.8 ppm of sodium sulfite is required to consume 1 ppm of chlorine.


Oxygen-saturated water, such as that found following forced draft decarbonation, accelerates the destruction of strong base exchange sites that occurs naturally over time. It also accelerates degradation due to organic fouling.


Thermal Degradation. Thermal degradation occurs if the anion resin becomes overheated during the service or regeneration cycle. This is especially true for acrylic resins, which have temperature limitations as low as 100 o F, and Type II strong base anion resins, which have a temperature limit of 105 o F when in the hydroxide form.


Organic Fouling


Organic fouling is the most common and expensive form of resin fouling and degradation. Usually, only low levels of organic materials are found in well waters. However, surface waters can contain hundreds of parts per million of natural and man-made organic matter. Natural organics are derived from decaying vegetation. They are aromatic and acidic in nature, and can complex heavy metals, such as iron. These contaminants include tannins, tannic acid, humic acid, and fulvic acid.


Initially, organics block the strong base sites on a resin. This blockage causes long final rinses and reduces salt splitting capacity. As the foulant continues to remain on the resin, it begins to degrade the strong base sites, reducing the salt splitting capacity of the resin. The functionality of the site changes from strong base to weak base, and finally to a nonactive site. Thus, a resin in the early stages of degradation exhibits high total capacity, but reduced salt splitting capacity. At this stage, cleaning of the resin can still return some, but not all, of the lost operating capacity. A loss in salt splitting capacity reduces the ability of the resin to remove silica and carbonic acid.


Organic fouling of anion resin is evidenced by the color of the effluent from the anion unit dur-ing regeneration, which ranges from tea-colored to dark brown. During operation, the treated water has higher conductivity and a lower pH.


Prevention. The following methods are used, either alone or in combination, to reduce organic fouling:

     Prechlorination and clarification. Water is prechlorinated at the source, and then clarified with an organic removal aid.


     Filtration through activated carbon. It should be noted that a carbon filter has a finite capacity for removal of organic material and that the removal performance of the carbon should be monitored frequently.


     Macroporous and weak base resin ahead of strong base resin. The weak base or macroporous resin absorbs the organic material and is eluted during regeneration.


     Specialty resins. Acrylic and other specialty resins that are less susceptible to organic fouling have been developed.


Inspection and Cleaning. In addition to these preventive procedures, a program of regular inspection and cleaning of the ion exchange system helps to preserve the life of anion resin. Most cleaning procedures use one of the following:


     Warm (120 o F) brine and caustic. Mild oxidants or solubilizing agents can be added to improve the cleaning.


     Hydrochloric acid. When resins are also fouled with significant amounts of iron, hydrochloric acids are used.


     Solutions of 0.25-0.5% sodium hypochlorite. This procedure destroys the organic material but also significantly degrades the resin. Hypochlorite cleaning is considered a last resort.


It is important to clean an organically fouled resin before excessive permanent degradation of the strong base sites occurs. Cleaning after permanent degradation has occurred removes significant amounts of organic material but does not improve unit performance. The condition of the resin should be closely monitored to identify the optimum schedule for cleaning.

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