Polymer: A User’s Perspective

Polymer, or more specifically, polymer chemistry, is a tough subject for those of us working with water and wastewater and who actually use polymer products. I’ve done numerous searches for textbooks on the subject but there just doesn’t seem to be a lot out there for operators. I’ve listed several books in the Wastewater Books page but I want to bring special attention to the two books listed below. I highly recommend both if you want to know more about the polymer products you use. Bratby’s book is expensive so I’d start with Kim’s book and then get Bratby if you want to know more than Kim tells you.

  • Bratby, John. Coagulation and Flocculation in Water and Wastewater Treatment. 2nd ed., London, UK: IWA Publishing, 2006.
  • Kim, Yong H. Coagulants and Flocculants. Littleton, CO: Tall Oaks Publishing, 1995.

You Learn and Know By Doing

Unfortunately, what I’ve discovered over the years is that real knowledge about polymer, from an end user’s perspective, is best obtained by working with it and using it. Most of us rely on a polymer vendor to come in to our plant and do jar testing and we often set these people up in our lab and then walk away, leaving them to do whatever it is they do. And, of course, what they are doing is jar testing, trying different products and a range of dosage rates. When you find a polymer that works while doing jar testing the results happen quickly and dramatically as shown in the photograph below where you can see solids forming into the highly desired flocs that a good polymer product produces.

Jar test results

These days, having left the public sector years ago as a wastewater operator, working for a chemical company, I do a lot of jar testing. And it’s something I really like to do, knowing that with patience, and certainly trial and error, I’ll find the best product and the optimum dose. My effort is made easier because I have access to a huge array of polymers that vary by the amount of cross-linking and charge density. So jar test after jar test, with that critical “hands-on” experience, you really start to get a feel for what different polymers can do. And the difference between performance from one polymer to another for a given chemical application is amazing. So I suggest to you that the next time your polymer salesperson shows up, don’t just set her up in the lab and walk away. Stay right there and participate in the jar testing. You’ll be very happy with what you learn.

Because I cannot stress the importance of  jar testing I’ve included a very detailed set of pages on how to do it. So if you are so inclined, please take a look at the jar test information I’ve provided. And I’ll be happy to receive any feedback.