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A computerized model of a long chain polymer structure. Image by zeeshan ahmad from Pixabay.


Industrial wastewater treatment requires industrial-grade solutions. This is why polymer water treatment has become such an important part of responsible and sustainable facility management. With polymers to aid the process, treatment is much more efficient and effective, benefiting businesses as well as the environment.

But what does this process involve exactly? Why are polymers so well suited to water treatment in an industrial setting, and what are the specific advantages businesses can leverage? Read on to discover more about the use of polymers for water treatment.

What Is a Polymer?

A polymer is a scientific term that can be applied to any material made up of long molecular chains. For example, while a water molecule is made up of only two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom, a polymer will display a far longer chain that can be indefinite in length. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a commonly used polymer in industry, consisting of ethylene monomers formed from two methylene molecules bonded together.

While methylene molecules contain the same amount of atoms as a water molecule – two hydrogen and one carbon in this case – these molecules are bonded together to create ethylene, with six atoms altogether. In turn, this ethylene molecule forms an indefinite chain to create HDPE, and any number of atoms may be present in this chain. The chemical formula for HDPE – (CH2-CH2)n – shows us this, with the n representing an undefined number of connected monomers.

What Is Polymer Wastewater Treatment?

In wastewater treatment, we are referring to specific kinds of polymers. These are polymer chains that attract and bond with pollutants and contaminants within the wastewater, achieving a process of flocculation. Flocculation involves the gathering together of materials within the water, creating flocs that are easier to process.

It is the chemical structure of polymers that makes them so useful to the wastewater treatment procedure. Because of the long chain, the polymer can bond effectively with pollutant molecules within the water, creating the flocs that are necessary for the flocculation and subsequent coagulation phases.

Polymer Advantages

Polymer water treatment provides a number of benefits to facilities across various industries. Basically, any facility that is seeking to manage and handle industrial wastewater could gain an advantage from using polymers.

Efficient Flocculation

Flocculation can be achieved without synthetic polymers, but this tends to be a slower and less efficient process. By adding polymers to the wastewater mixture, facility managers can accelerate the process and reduce the time and effort that needs to be expended. While polymer treatment is expensive, these time and labor savings may outweigh the additional costs as long as the process is correctly managed. This is a big decision for facility managers to make, but the increased efficiency of polymer water treatment makes it a viable option for facilities that adopt the right approach.

More Effective Coagulation

Flocculation is not the only phase of treatment for wastewater. Before flocculation can occur, the wastewater must first pass through the coagulation phase. Coagulation and flocculation are similar processes, and both involve the bonding and collection of pollutant particles into solid materials of greater mass. During coagulation, pollutants within the water bond together to form clumps, which are easier to manage and remove than molecular particles that are suspended in the water. Coagulation agents make this process happen, but these agents will be wasted if the follow-up flocculation phase does not succeed in creating the necessary flocs. Polymers ensure that clumps can be properly processed in the next phase of water treatment, increasing the efficacy of the entire process.

Removal of Microplastics

Microplastics are a serious problem in wastewater, chiefly because they are often able to pass through the treatment process without detection and removal. If microplastic buildup in the local water table and ground soil becomes too great, this can have a significant ecological impact. A recent case study from the United Kingdom – released in 2022 – returned some mind-boggling statistics regarding the amount of plastic pollution. The report contextualized these figures, claiming that the equivalent of more than 20,000 bank cards could be released into local ecosystems when wastewater sludge is used as fertilizer.

Studies have suggested that polymer usage could be instrumental in preventing the release of microplastic pollutants. Research conducted by CSIRO Manufacturing identified how polyelectrolyte (PE) polymers could be used to improve the removal of microplastics during effluent floatation.

Manageable Costs with Polymer Blends

As mentioned above, polymers can be expensive to source and deploy. With this in mind, facility managers need to make sure that they are getting the optimal use out of the polymers they utilize. While this may not eliminate the additional cost of using polymers, it does make these costs more manageable, and also helps to make sure that the treatment achieves the right results.

A polymer blend is essentially a mixture of two distinct polymers. However, an effective polymer blend will be more than just a mixture – it will be something similar to a metal alloy, in the sense that the two separate materials bond together to form a wholly new material with its own particular properties. The blending procedure enables producers to engage in “polymer engineering,” as they are effectively creating a new material that is ideally suited to flocculation. Using blended polymers can further accelerate the treatment process and enhance its results, ensuring that the facility’s dollars are well spent.

An Important Decision to Be Made 

Polymer water treatment is not the right course of action for all facilities. Facilities that are handling only a small amount of wastewater may find the polymer process to be too expensive, and they may be able to manage their wastewater more effectively using other methods. However, at a larger scale, deploying these long chain molecules can provide significant value, not only to the facility itself, but also local communities, nearby ecosystems, and the environment as a whole.