Softening of drinking water by the pellet reactor - Effects of influent water composition on calcium carbonate pellet characteristics

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Feb 20:652:538-548. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.157. Epub 2018 Oct 12.


Pellet softening of drinking water can provide aesthetic, socioeconomic and environmental benefits in areas with hard water. Calcium carbonate pellets are the main by-product from pellet softening and their characteristics determine their reuse potentials. We characterized pellets from a pilot-scale pellet reactor treating 16 water types at 8 Danish drinking water treatment plants to investigate the variations in pellet characteristics and how they depend on the influent water composition. The pellets consisted of up to 100% calcium as calcium carbonate, but contained often also impurities such as strontium, magnesium, iron and sodium, each contributing with up to 1.3% of the pellet mass. Other elements, including heavy metals, accounted for <0.04% of the pellet mass. The quartz sand seeding material contributed with up to 15% of the pellet mass and can be a barrier for pellet reuse. Therefore, replacing this with calcium carbonate (limestone) seeding material increases the pellet purity. Modelling the chemical speciation indicated that elements not forming carbonates (e.g. potassium and magnesium), are only incorporated into pellets to a limited extent. The concentrations of strontium, magnesium, manganese, iron and nickel in the pellets had a strong positive correlation with the influent water concentration. Consequently, the pellet purity increases if the concentration of these elements is reduced in the water before softening by other treatment technologies. Potassium, arsenic and zinc showed no or only a weak correlation. The pellets precipitated as calcite, and had a reactivity of ≤25.7% and a specific surface area of ≤0.32 m2/g, which limits the potential reuse as soil amendment in agriculture. The pellet mineralogy was independent of the investigated range of influent water quality and seeding materials. Including pellet characteristics when designing the softening process can improve pellet reuse, ultimately leading to a more environmentally sustainable drinking water supply.

Keywords: By-product reuse; Calcite; Calcium carbonate; Chemical water treatment; Drinking water treatment; Residuals management.