You are on page 1of 5

Desalination 311 (2013) 9094

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

journal homepage:

Adapting dissolved air otation for the clarication of seawater

Johannes Haarhoff a,, James K. Edzwald b

Department of Civil Engineering Science, University of Johannesburg, Box 524, Auckland Park, 2006 Johannesburg, South Africa
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA


We compare the performance of dissolved air otation in seawater and freshwater.

The contact between particles, bubbles and water is slightly impaired in seawater.
Air solubility is less in seawater, necessitating substantial design changes.
Two charts are provided to make design corrections for seawater.

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 10 October 2012
Accepted 27 October 2012
Available online 20 December 2012
Dissolved air otation
Saturation pressure
Recycle rate
Air solubility

a b s t r a c t
The high ionic strength of seawater affects the performance of the dissolved air otation (DAF) clarication
process in a number of ways. At a reference temperature of 20 C, the density of seawater is 3% higher
than freshwater; the dynamic viscosity 8% higher; and the surface tension 1% higher. These differences
cause very small changes in the rates of movement of particles and bubbles in both the contact and separation zones of the DAF reactor, that can be ignored for practical design purposes. Much more important are the
differences in the solubility of air in seawater (controlled by Henry's constant) and the air transfer efciency
in pressure saturators or other air saturation devices (largely controlled by the molecular diffusivities of the
air gases in water). At 20 C, a typical air saturator only transfers 74% of the air to seawater relative to freshwater. This shortfall can be corrected by either increasing the recycle rate, or by operating the saturator at a
higher pressure. The paper presents design charts for both these options.
2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Dissolved air otation (DAF) is an emerging process for the clarication of seawater before desalination by reverse osmosis. The
success of DAF depends on a number of physical processes relating
to the movement of bubbles and particles through water, and to the
dissolution and precipitation of air. These processes have been studied
in detail in relation to the clarication of freshwater and robust design
procedures are available [2]. The much higher salinity of seawater,
however, requires some adjustments to the conventional design
guidelines to ensure the optimal efciency of DAF. The objectives of
this paper are to identify how seawater affects DAF performance and
to propose methods whereby the design procedures are adjusted.
The concentration of dissolved matter in seawater is described in
terms of its salinity (S). It is expressed on a mass basis as the grammes
of dissolved material per kilogramme of seawater. For seawater of
average composition it is 35.16 g/kg, but varies in the open oceans
from about 31 to 38 g/kg. The higher values are found in the
Corresponding author. Tel.: +27 11 559 2148; fax: +27 11 559 2395.
E-mail addresses: (J. Haarhoff),
(J.K. Edzwald).
0011-9164/$ see front matter 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea (Arabian Gulf), and the Persian Gulf.
Lower values are found near the mouths of rivers. For the purposes
of this paper, a rounded salinity of S = 35 g/kg is used. Another
measure of the ion content of seawater is the ionic strength (I). I for
freshwaters range from about 5 10 4 to 10 2 M corresponding to
total dissolved solids (TDS) of 20 to 400 mg/L. Brackish and estuarine
waters have I starting at about 102 M up to less than that of seawater.
The average I for seawater is 0.68 mol/kg.
2. Physical properties of seawater
The density, dynamic viscosity and surface tension are all higher in
seawater than in freshwater. The density difference ranges from 2.8%
at 0 C to 2.6% at 40 C; for dynamic viscosity from 6.3% at 0 C to 8.3%
at 40 C; and for surface tension from 0.7% at 0 C to 1.4% at 40 C.
These ratios (seawater/freshwater) were calculated from reference
values published for freshwater [9] and seawater at S = 35 g/kg [8]
and shown in Fig. 1.
The Henry's constants for the principal three gases in atmospheric
air (nitrogen, oxygen and argon) are all signicantly higher in seawater
than in freshwater (and therefore less soluble). The values for oxygen
were calculated from Garcia and Gordon [3] and the values for nitrogen

J. Haarhoff, J.K. Edzwald / Desalination 311 (2013) 9094


Fig. 1. Seawater/freshwater ratios for bulk water physical properties.

Fig. 3. Schematic representation of the DAF process.

and argon from Hamme and Emerson [5]. Fig. 2 shows seawater/
freshwater ratios for the Henry's constants.
The molecular diffusivity of the air gases in seawater is somewhat
uncertain at present. Earlier experimental measurements showed
that the molecular diffusion coefcient is lower in seawater, which
was used to support a recommendation that seawater diffusivity
should be taken as 6% lower than that of freshwater [6]. A more
recent review pointed out that later experimental work failed to conrm this recommendation [7]. At this point, for practical engineering
design, it seems prudent to assume the seawater/freshwater ratio of
molecular diffusivity to be 0.94 for all the principal air gases.

algae, and oil and grease. It is particularly effective in removing

algae so DAF is a good choice where harmful red and brown algal
blooms occur. Fig. 4 shows SWRO pretreatment consisting of coagulation (ferric chloride is the coagulant of choice), occulation, DAF, and
dual-media granular lters. An alternative is to place DAF directly on
top of the lters (DAFF) where the hydraulic loading rate on the DAFF
system is 10 to 15 m/h. An alternative is horizontal separation of DAF
from the lters (as depicted in Fig. 4) and use of high-rate DAF loading rates of 20 to 35 m/h.
Returning to Fig. 3, the DAF reactor is conceptualised as having
two consecutive steps. The rst is the contact zone, where ocs and
bubbles interact to form stable ocbubble aggregates. The second
is the separation zone, where the aggregates are allowed to rise to
the top of the tank. In reality, there is some overlap between these
two zones. For both these zones, comprehensive mathematical
models have been developed which allowed much better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms involved in these complex
three-phase systems. These models, coupled with a strong foundation
of empirical experience, have evolved into robust design models for
DAF in the drinking water business, recently summarised in a comprehensive handbook [2]. The mathematical models presented in
this handbook form the basis for the analyses presented in the following sections.

3. Seawater effects on DAF

3.1. Process description
DAF is a gravity-driven solidsliquid separation process which has
gained wide acceptance in the drinking water treatment industry
since the early 1990s. It relies on the buoyancy induced by adding
air to a suspension of occulated water, which drives the ocbubble
aggregates to the top of the DAF reactor towards the oat layer, while
the claried water is withdrawn at the bottom of the DAF reactor. The
air is injected with the pressurised recycle stream, which precipitates
as small bubbles when the pressure is released across the recycle
injection nozzles. The process is schematically shown in Fig. 3.
Over the last 10 years or so DAF is being increasingly used as
an important pretreatment process for seawater reverse osmosis
(SWRO) plants in removing turbidity, total organic carbon (TOC),

3.2. Contact zone

The contact zone model, initially developed by Edzwald et al. [1]
and later reviewed by Haarhoff and Edzwald [4], indicates that the
physical properties of the water affect its performance in two ways.
The rst is the rise velocity (vb) of the air bubbles through the contact
zone, which is dependent on both water density and viscosity. The
rise velocity is calculated from the classical Stokes expression:


gw b db
18 w

Eq. (1) is used to calculate the seawater/freshwater ratio of the

rise velocity (vb ratio) in the contact zone (subscript S indicates seawater and F freshwater):

vb ratio

Fig. 2. Seawater/freshwater ratios for Henry's constants for the principal air gases.

F b

S b

The second determinant of contact zone performance is the total

single collector efciency (T), which is the sum of the particle transport mechanisms due to Brownian diffusion (D), interception (I),
and settling (S). Interception is the dominant mechanism, but it is


J. Haarhoff, J.K. Edzwald / Desalination 311 (2013) 9094

Fig. 4. Process schematic of dissolved air otation pretreatment for SWRO plants.

not dependent on water's physical properties and thus is the same for
freshwater and seawater. Brownian diffusion and settling, which are
dependent on water density, play minor roles. In fact, the settling
collector term plays such a negligible role in the contact zone that
only Brownian diffusion needs to be considered. The collision efciency due to Brownian diffusion is:
2 = " #2 =3  2
kb T
D 6:18
g w b

The ratio of the Brownian diffusion term in seawater and freshwater

(D ratio) follows:

D ratio

F b =3
S b

At a reference temperature of 20 C and with particle or oc

density assumed at 1050 kg/m 3: the vb ratio is 0.96 and the D ratio
is 0.98. At a higher temperature of 35 C (some seawater facilities
are located in hot climates) these ratios approach unity. Therefore,
the collision efciency in seawater should be about the same as in
freshwater. Assuming sufcient air is supplied (see Sections 3.4, 3.5,
and 4), then the overall contact zone performance and contact zone
design should be similar for seawater and freshwater.
3.3. Separation zone
The efciency of the DAF separation zone depends on the upward
movement of the ocbubble aggregates through the watera process
dependent on the density and viscosity of the water. Mathematical
models for the rise rate of the ocbubble aggregates (vfb) allow the
calculation of the seawater/freshwater ratio for the rise rate (vfb ratio)
[2]. For laminar ow (Reynolds number less than 1), vfb and vfb ratio
are given by Eqs. (5) and (6):

vfb laminar

4g w fb d2fb

3K w

vfb ratio laminar

S fb
F fb




For DAF, it is likely that the rise rate of some of the larger ocbubble
aggregates will be in the transitional ow regime (Reynolds number
larger than 1), which leads to different expressions for vfb and vfb ratio:

vfb transitional


0:8 g 0:8 0:8 d1:4
w w

vfb ratio transitional

S fb
F fb






Eqs. (6) and (8) require an estimate of the density of the ocbubble
aggregates. The difference between water density and ocbubble
density should be about the same in seawater and freshwater, and the
rst bracketed terms on the right of the equations are assumed to be
one. For laminar ow, vfb ratio varies from 0.94 at 0 C to 0.92 at
40 C. For transitional ow, it varies from 0.96 at 0 C to 0.95 at 40 C.
This analysis suggests a reduction in hydraulic loading rates for seawater between 5 and 8%. However, given the small differences and the
conservative nature of design, we expect little or no change in the
design of full-scale plants.
3.4. Air solubility
The solubilities of gases in water are limited by their Henry's constants. Fig. 2 shows that the Henry's constants are considerably higher
in seawater. Because the gas solubility (G) is inversely proportional to
the Henry's constant, then the gas solubility seawater/freshwater
ratio (G ratio) is:
G ratio

H F 1


Atmospheric air consists mainly of nitrogen (78.1% volume per

volume), oxygen (21.0%) and argon (0.9%). Taking a weighted average of these fractions, the solubility of atmospheric air at 20 C and
sea level is 0.640 mol/m 3 in seawater compared to 0.837 mol/m 3 in
freshwater a G ratio of 0.765.
3.5. Air transfer in packed saturators
Practical air saturation systems for DAF usually employ packed or
unpacked pressure saturators. The majority of water clarication
plants around the world use packed saturators with good effect, and
their design is backed up with a rational design procedure, which is
still lacking for unpacked saturators. This paper considers the effect
of seawater on packed saturators only.
Henry's constant provides the maximum amount of air that can be
dissolved in water. In a real saturation system, less air is transferred,
because saturators are not 100% efcient due to kinetic constraints.
First, the air transfer efciency in packed saturators depends on the
wetted packing area in the saturator. The dry packing area is dened
by the geometry of the packing pieces, but the wet packing area
depends on how evenly the water spreads itself over the packing
surfaces. This can be predicted with an Onda correlation [2]. The
seawater/freshwater ratio of wetted packing area (aw ratio) is practically constant over all packing sizes and hydraulic loading rates and
ranges between 0.97 and 0.98. Second, the rate of mass transfer at the
air/water interface is inuenced by the molecular diffusivity (D) of the

J. Haarhoff, J.K. Edzwald / Desalination 311 (2013) 9094


Table 1
Design parameters for typical packed saturators.

Hydraulic loading
Saturator pressure
Packing depth
Packing size

kPa gauge





gas, which is discussed above. As suggested, the seawater/freshwater

ratio of molecular diffusivity (D ratio) is taken conservatively as 0.94.
The mass transfer constant (KL) reects the combined effects of
the wetted packing area and the molecular diffusivity, as well as the
density and viscosity of the water. Using a second Onda correlation
in Eq. (10), the seawater/freshwater ratio of the mass transfer constant (KL ratio) is predicted with Eq. (11):

2 =
 g =3 HLmass =3  D =2 
a  dp 5
K L 0:0051

K L ratio

 5 =  1 =  2 =  1 =



Eq. (11) indicates that KL ratio ranges from 0.94 at 0 C to 0.92 at

40 C for all the air gases.
All the ratios are now known to calculate the effect of seawater on
the total mass of air transferred (M) in a typical packed air saturator,
using well established methods reported elsewhere [2]. The design
parameters of a typical packed saturator used in these calculations
are shown in Table 1. The seawater/freshwater ratio for the total air
mass transferred in a typical saturator (M ratio) is shown in Fig. 5.
The relationship in Fig. 5 indicates that a typical saturator which
produces 100% of air in freshwater will only produce 71% to 77% of
air in seawater over the temperature range investigated. This is a
large difference. This range stays about the same even if the saturator
design is varied over the full range of the design parameters in Table 1.
If one assumes that seawater DAF requires the same volumetric air
concentration as freshwater DAF (there is no reason at this point to
disagree), then the conventional saturation system, as commonly
used for freshwater, has to be adapted for seawater.

Fig. 6. Required seawater recycle rate to match the air produced by a similar air
saturator for freshwater.

other saturator variables remaining the same. To end up with the

same air concentration in the combined ow entering the contact
zone (A), the rst obvious solution is to increase the recycle rate (r).
The design equation linking M, A and r is provided by Eq. (12):



Assuming that the required air concentration A should be the

same for seawater and freshwater, an expression for the required recycle rate for seawater is obtained:

r S M ratio
1r F


The M ratio in Fig. 5 cannot be meaningfully adjusted with the

design parameters in Table 1. This means that the air concentration
leaving the saturator (M) is less for seawater then for freshwater, all

Fig. 6 provides a chart to obtain the necessary recycle rate for seawater to match the air produced by a similar saturator for freshwater.
To match 10% at 20 C for freshwater, for example, the seawater recycle
rate has to be 14%.
The above analysis holds if the saturation pressure stays the same.
An alternative option would be to keep the recycle rate constant, and
increase the pressure within the saturator. Based on the saturator
design equations presented by Edzwald and Haarhoff [2], Fig. 7
provides a chart to determine the required pressure for a seawater saturator to match the air transfer of a freshwater saturator. To match
500 kPa at 20 C for freshwater, for example, the seawater saturation
pressure has to be 675 kPa.

Fig. 5. Seawater/freshwater ratio for the mass of air transferred in a typical packed

Fig. 7. Required pressure for a seawater saturator to match the air produced by a
freshwater saturator.

4. Suggested design corrections for seawater DAF


J. Haarhoff, J.K. Edzwald / Desalination 311 (2013) 9094

Table 2
Summary of effects of seawater relative to freshwater, at 20 C with salinity S= 35 g/kg.



Physical properties
Dynamic viscosity
Surface tension

Plus 3%
Plus 8%
Plus 1%

Contact zone
Bubble rise rate
Collision efciency Brownian
Collision efciency interception
Collision efciency total

Minus 4%
Minus 2%
No effect
Very small

Not signicant
Minor importance
Major importance
Dominated by interception

Separation zone
Floc/bubble rise rate (laminar)
Floc/bubble rise rate (transitional)

Minus 7%
Minus 4%

Not likely to affect design

Not likely to affect design

Air solubility
Henry's constant nitrogen
Henry's constant oxygen
Henry's constant argon
Atmospheric air solubility

Plus 32%
Plus 30%
Plus 29%
Minus 24%


Packed saturators
Wetted packing area
Mass transfer constant
Air mass transferred

Minus 2%
Minus 7%
Minus 26%

Minor importance
Large difference


packing area
available air concentration entering the contact zone
molecular diffusivity
gravitational acceleration
gas solubility
Henry's constant
mass hydraulic loading
Boltzmann's constant
coefcient for drag constant
mass transfer constant
available air concentration leaving the saturator
recycle rate
absolute temperature
rise velocity


collision efciency

dynamic viscosity
subscript b bubble
subscript D Brownian diffusion
subscript fb ocbubble
subscript F freshwater
subscript I inertia
subscript S seawater
subscript T total
subscript w water or wetted

5. Summary and conclusions

The high salinity of seawater affects its physical properties in
relation to freshwater. The changes that are relevant to the design
of DAF systems for water clarication are summarised in Table 2.
The changes have a small, but negligible, effect on the design of
the contact zone. The effects on the design of the separation zone
are greater, but are not likely to change the design of full-scale
systems. The design of the air saturation systems, however, denitely needs to be adapted due to the lower solubility of air in
Two possible ways of adapting the design procedure for seawater
systems, or combinations thereof, are suggested. In both cases, a
saturator should rst be designed for freshwater, using standard
published procedures (see [2]). To account for seawater, the rst
option is to keep the saturation pressure constant, but to increase
the recycle rate by using the design chart in Fig. 6. The second option
is to keep the recycle rate constant, but to increase the saturation
pressure by using the design chart in Fig. 7.

[1] J.K. Edzwald, J.P. Malley Jr., C. Yu, A conceptual model for dissolved air otation in
water treatment, Water Supply 8 (1990) 141150.
[2] J.K. Edzwald, J. Haarhoff, Dissolved Air Flotation for Water Clarication,
McGraw-Hill, New York and AWWA, Denver, 2012.
[3] H.E. Garca, L.I. Gordon, Oxygen solubility in seawater: better tting equations,
Limnol. Oceanogr. 37 (6) (1992) 13071312.
[4] J. Haarhoff, J.K. Edzwald, Dissolved air otation modelling: insights and shortcomings, J. Water Supply Res. Technol. AQUA 53 (3) (2004) 127150.
[5] R.C. Hamme, S.R. Emerson, The solubility of neon, nitrogen and argon in distilled
water and seawater, Deep Sea Res. 51 (11) (2004) 15171528.
[6] B. Jhne, G. Heinz, W. Dietrich, Measurement of the diffusion coefcients of sparingly soluble gases in water, J. Geophys. Res. 92 (1987) 1076710776.
[7] D.B. King, W.J. De Bryun, M. Zheng, E.S. Salzman, Uncertainties in the molecular diffusion coefcient of gases in water for use in the estimation of air-sea exchange, in:
B. Jhne, E. Monahan (Eds.), AirWater Gas Transfer, AEON Verlag, 1995.
[8] M.H. Sharqawy, J.H. Lienhard, S.M. Zubair, Thermophysical properties of seawater:
a review of the existing correlations and data, Desalin. Water Treat. 16 (2010)
[9] The Chemical Rubber Company, in: R.C. Weast (Ed.), CRC Handbook of Chemistry
and Physics, 16th ed., CRC Press Inc., Boca Raton, Florida, 1985.