Getting back to basics: What is pH?

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The most used measure in wastewater treatment, and for good reasons

The “potential of hydrogen” or “pH” is the measure of free hydrogen activity in water and thereby indicative of the measure of its free acidity or free alkalinity. Gauged on a numeric scale of 0-14, solutions with a pH of less than 7.0 are acids. Solutions with a pH greater than 7.0 are bases and solutions with a pH of 7.0 are neutral.

The pH is the most used measurement in wastewater treatment. Dependence on pH is found at every phase of water supply and wastewater treatment, including acid-base neutralization, water softening, precipitation, coagulation, disinfection and corrosion control.

In the simplest terms, bases are used to neutralize acids, while acids are used to neutralize alkalis. The terms “alkali,” “alkaline,” “caustic” and “base” are often used interchangeably.

The pH of common solutions vary dramatically such as lime juice having a pH of <2.5 to Milk of Magnesia having a pH of >10.0.

The best pH for a wastewater treatment process depends on the water’s ultimate use.

For example, the pH value for discharging treated wastewater into an environmental water stream, be it ocean, river or creek, often requires regulated pH ranges between 6.0 and 9.0. In comparison, pre-treated wastewater being discharged into a municipal sewer systems requires regulated pH ranges between <6.0 and >9.0.

Optimum pH also varies dependent upon wastewater treatment requirements, especially when treatment process tanks receive untreated wastewater from production processes or upon the available wastewater treatments available, and the need for tightly maintained set points.

For certain wastewater treatment processes a pH as low as 3.0 is maintained, while others specify a precise pH value as high as 11.0.

Consider the following in regards to controlling pH in treatment tanks to sustain unique wastewater treatments during a continuous or batch process.

Continuous pH adjustment

In continuous pH adjustment, the treatment tank operates full at all times. Consequently, one gallon entering the tank displaces one gallon exiting the tank discharge. As the influent flow enters the treatment tank it mixes with the tank contents. If the influent pH varies from that of the tank contents, which is likely, then the influent flow will be pH adjusted through the resultant chemical reaction that occurs as the influent mixes with the contents.

An equal and opposite reaction takes place within the tank contents. This opposite reaction is sensed by the pH probe which delivers a continuous pH feed-back signal to the pH controller. The controller triggers the appropriate metering pump to bring the tank water level back into set-point range.

If the influent flow was alkaline, for example, the result would be a steady rise in the tank pH as measured by the pH probe at the tank discharge location. The pH controller would then signal to operate the acid metering pump at an appropriate rate to return the pH to set-point range.

A major advantage to this layout is simplicity and relatively high flows. However, since the tank is always full there is no guarantee, regardless of tank size or control-system proficiency, that the effluent will always be in set-point range. Recognize, the pH control uses a feed-back loop, which does nothing until an out of set-point value is sensed.

If influent flow and chemistry are high enough or strong enough then the effluent pH diverge from and remain out of the pre-programed set-point ranges. Therefore, a pH control backup measure such as regular monitoring may be advised.

Batch adjustment of pH

Here there is a treatment tank, mixer, acid and caustic metering pumps, pH probe and controller, level sensor and discharge valve. Influent flow enters the tank anywhere convenient and exits the tank near the bottom.

In batch pH adjustment, untreated influent enters and fills the tank to the high tank-level point. For the untreated waste, the pH adjustment process occurs much in the same way that a continuous system performs. The difference, however, is that a large volume is treated in one cycle. Once the tank contents are within the discharge range for a minimum working period of time the effluent discharge valve opens thereby allowing the tank to empty. Once the tank is empty, the cycle repeats.

The batch advantage is that no effluent is removed from the tank until the discharge criteria is met. Batch systems are far more suitable for smaller treatment volumes and effluents that may be characterized by large swings in influent pH, concentrated discharges, or erratic flow rates.

The throughput of many designed pH neutralization / adjustment systems is limited by several major drawbacks. These flaws pertain to pH probe response time, mixing efficiency, tank design, chemical metering precision, chemical reaction times and pH control interaction.

So-called “advanced-procedure” pH controls address each of these deficiencies individually and harmoniously. With the use of advanced procedure pH controls, consistent, reliable results are achievable.

Certain general steps for controlling pH have been described. If you have specific pH or other wastewater queries, please submit a question.

This article is originally from Water/Waste Processing and this great article is written by Daniel L. Theobald. Daniel L. Theobald, also known in the industry as “Wastewater Dan”, proprietor of Environmental Services, is a professional wastewater and safety consultant/trainer. He has more than 24 years of hands-on industry experience operating many variants of wastewater treatment processing units and is eager to share with others his knowledge about water conservation ( To read more of Daniel’s article, please click here.

Beale Awarded Safety Medal

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safetymedalChris Beale, senior safety consultant at Ciba Specialty Chemicals, was presented with the Frank Lees Medal at IChemE’s Hazards XXI symposium in Manchester, UK last week.

The medal is presented every year to the person who has authored the best safety and loss prevention publication.

Beale was awarded the 2008 medal in recognition of his paper, The Causes of IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) Leaks at Chemical Plants – An Analysis of Operating Experience, presented at Hazards XX in April last year.

The medal was presented to Beale by IChemE Safety and Loss Prevention Subject Group chair, Mike Considine and named after the late Professor Frank Lees, author of Loss prevention in the process industries and a leading chemical engineering academic at Loughborough University.

IChemE chief executive, David Brown says: “Safety and loss prevention remain as important to the process industries today as ever before. IChemE strives to recognize the most outstanding work in the field and I congratulate Chris on his achievement.”

About Chemical Engineers
Chemical, biochemical and process engineering is the application of science, maths and economics to the process of turning raw materials into everyday products. Professional chemical engineers design, construct and manage process operations all over the world. Pharmaceuticals, food and drink, synthetic fibres and clean drinking water are just some of the products where chemical engineering plays a central role.

About IChemE
IChemE (Institution of Chemical Engineers) is the hub for chemical, biochemical and process engineering professionals worldwide. With a growing global membership of some 30,000, the Institution is at the heart of the process community, promoting competence and a commitment to best practice, advancing the discipline for the benefit of society, encouraging young people in science and engineering and supporting the professional development of its members. For more information, visit

SOURCE: Institution of Chemical Engineers

Adopted from:

Chemical, Catalysis, Chemistry related Journal

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Here is a few journal for my and your references if you want to read, refer or publish. Number in parentheses indicates the impact factor in 2007. If you have any journals to add in this list, please contact me.

1. Applied Catalysis A-General (2.63)

2. Applied Catalysis B: Environmental (3.942)

3. Catalysis Communications (1.878)

4. Catalysis Letters (1.772)

5. Catalysis Today (2.148)

6. Chemical Engineering Science (1.629)

7. Chemical Engineering Research and Design (0.747)

8. Chinese Journal of Chemical Engineering (0.393)

9. Energy & Fuels (1.519)

10. Energy Sources Part A-Recovery and Environmental Effects (0.425)

11. European Journal of Organic Chemistry (2.769)

12. Fuel (1.358)

13. Fluid Phase Equilibria (1.68)

14. Fuel Processing Technology (1.323)

15. International Journal of Chemical Reactor Engineering

16. Journal of Applied Polymer Science (1.306)

17. Journal of Catalysis (4.533)

18. Journal of Crystal Growth (1.809)

19. Journal of Dispersion Science and Technology (0.914)

20. Journal of Fuel Chemistry and Technology

21. Journal of Materials Chemistry (4.287)

22. Journal of Physical Chemistry B (4.115)

23. Journal of Rare Earths (0.368)

24. Microporous and Mesoporous Materials (2.796)

25. Molecular Sumulation (1.084)

26. Petroleum Chemistry (0.191)

27. Petroleum Science and Technology (0.308)

28. Thin Solid Films (1.665)

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