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What are Phosphates In Water and How to Remove Them

What are Phosphates In Water and How to Remove Them

Robin Collins |

Phosphates are an important nutrient for aquatic plants and algae, but too much in waterways can cause more growth than is healthy. Controlling phosphate levels helps maintain ecological balance. There are several effective methods to choose from depending on your needs.

In this blog post, we will cover seven common phosphate removal methods and two advanced techniques to remove phosphates in water.

Also, read our blog post about Major Differences Between RO & Tap Water

What are Phosphates in Water?

Phosphates are chemicals compounds that usually contain phosphorus. They come from rocks and dissolve into water. Plants and algae need phosphates to grow healthy. Lakes, streams, and oceans all get phosphates.

But a lot more than usual can make algae grow more than it should. It's good to understand what phosphates are and how they affect different bodies of water.

Advanced Phosphate Removal Methods

Here are a couple of advanced methods for removing phosphate from water.

1. Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration

Reverse osmosis filters uses pressure to force water through a membrane with tiny holes. Only the water molecules slip through; phosphates and other particles are too big. This separates the phosphates from the water in a simple way.

Phosphates and other dissolved ions are left behind in a concentrated waste stream. Reverse osmosis can lower phosphates well below other methods, producing very high-purity water.

It takes significant energy to force water through the membrane barrier, but reverse osmosis is well-suited for applications like boiler feed water where ultra-low phosphates are required.

2. Electrocoagulation

Electrocoagulation uses electricity to get phosphates out of water. It works by putting metal plates like aluminum or iron into the water. When a low-voltage current flows, the metals slowly break down and release charged ions.

These ions help phosphates in the water stick together and clump into bigger groups. The clumps float up or sink to the bottom, where they're easy to filter out. This method works really well at getting phosphates without using lots of chemicals.

It cleans the water using a process powered by renewable energy. Electrocoagulation gives great results in an eco-friendly way through a special reaction powered by electricity.

Other Phosphate Removal Methods

There are several effective approaches to removing excess phosphates from water. Some of the most widely used methods rely on physical and chemical processes.

1. Chemical Precipitation

One way to get phosphates out of water is using chemical precipitation. In this process, substances like aluminum sulfate or iron chloride are added. They react with the phosphate ions and form solid particles.

The particles clump together and sink to the bottom of the tank or lake as sludge. The filters can remove the sludge, leaving water with fewer phosphate ions. It's an effective method where chemicals bind phosphates so they fall out of the water.

2. Coagulation and Flocculation

Coagulation and flocculation is a two-step method that works very well at getting phosphates out of water. First, chemicals like aluminum or iron salts are added. This coagulation step neutralizes the electric charges on the phosphate ions.

Then, in flocculation, a gentle mixing helps the particles collide and stick together into larger clumps called floc. The floc particles become heavy and visible.

Next, the settled floc at the bottom can be filtered away, leaving clear water with low phosphate levels. This process makes it easy to remove phosphates by using chemicals to bind them together so they form heavier particles that settle fast.

3. Ion Exchange

Ion exchange is a sophisticated yet efficient method for extracting phosphates. It involves passing water through resin beads or an exchange medium that selectively attracts phosphate ions and traps them while releasing other ions back into the water flow.

The exchanged phosphates remain secured in the resin while the treated water outputs with low phosphate levels.

This process yields consistent results, but the resin eventually reaches capacity and requires regeneration by flushing it with brine solution. When done right, ion exchange delivers high-quality water using a reusable filtration method.

4. Adsorption:

Adsorption uses a natural pull between phosphates and certain materials to get phosphates out of water. Special activated carbon or other adsorbents are added. Their large surfaces attract and bond with phosphate ions at a tiny level.

After a while, the adsorbents fill up with phosphates. Then they need cleaning or tossing. This low-cost way works well for water with fewer phosphates since it packs contaminants onto the adsorbents. It takes advantage of phosphates' attraction to other materials.

5. Biological Treatment

Biological treatment leverages the natural abilities of microorganisms to metabolize phosphates. In this process, aerobic bacteria are introduced to water, and they consume phosphate ions as a nutrient source.

Many municipal water treatment plants employ activated sludge systems containing bacteria colonies. As the microbes feed and reproduce, they gradually remove phosphates from the water through their metabolic processes.

The bacteria and phosphates are then separated, such as through sedimentation. While taking longer than chemical methods, biological treatment is a gentle process that harnesses microbial power to purify water without introducing harsh chemicals.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How can I test for phosphates in water?

There are simple tests you can do to check phosphate levels in water. Commercial test kits are available containing reagents that change color when mixed with water samples. The darker the color, the higher the phosphate concentration.

You can also send samples to a laboratory for professional testing using analytical equipment like spectrometers. Either method provides an accurate reading of the phosphates present.

What are some ways to reduce phosphate levels in water?

There are several effective options for lowering excess phosphates in water sources. Common approaches include chemical precipitation using aluminum or iron salts, adsorption onto activated carbon, ion exchange filtration, etc.

However, the most effective yet recommended option is filtering the phosphate affected water using a reverse osmosis filter.

Final Words:

Phosphates occur naturally in small amounts but can become excessive. The good news is there are several effective low-cost methods to choose from depending on individual water needs and budgets.

With a bit of knowledge about chemical precipitation, coagulation, adsorption, reverse osmosis or electrocoagulation, anyone can select the best approach to maintain healthy phosphate levels and balance aquatic ecosystems. With a little effort, we can all help keep our local waters clean.