David I. Verrelli *;
* Under supervision of Peter J. Scales (primary supervisor) and David R. Dixon (secondary supervisor), and with additional support as acknowledged. 

Drinking Water Treatment Sludge Production and Dewaterability

Ph.D. Thesis, The University of Melbourne;  Melbourne, Australia;  2008: 968 pages.
Website: repository.unimelb.edu.au/10187/3521


The provision of clean drinking water typically involves treatment processes to remove contaminants. The conventional process involves coagulation with hydrolysing metal salts, typically of aluminium (‘alum’) or trivalent iron (‘ferric’). Along with the product water this also produces a waste by-product, or sludge. The fact of increasing sludge production — due to higher levels of treatment and greater volume of water supply — conflicts with modern demands for environmental best practice, leading to higher financial costs. A further issue is the significant quantity of water that is held up in the sludge, and wasted.

One means of dealing with these problems is to dewater the sludge further. This reduces the volume of waste to be disposed of. The consistency is also improved (e.g. for the purpose of landfilling). And a significant amount of water can be recovered. The efficiency, and efficacy, of this process depends on the dewaterability of the sludge.
In fact, good dewaterability is vital to the operation of conventional drinking water treatment plants (WTP’s). The usual process of separating the particulates, formed from a blend of contaminants and coagulated precipitate, relies on ‘clarification’ and ‘thickening’, which are essentially settling operations of solid–liquid separation.
WTP operators — and researchers — do attempt to measure sludge dewaterability, but usually rely on empirical characterisation techniques that do not tell the full story and can even mislead. Understanding of the physical and chemical nature of the sludge is also surprisingly rudimentary, considering the long history of these processes.

The present work begins by reviewing the current state of knowledge on raw water and sludge composition, with special focus on solid aluminium and iron phases and on fractal aggregate structure. Next the theory of dewatering is examined, with the adopted phenomenological theory contrasted with empirical techniques and other theories.
The foundation for subsequent analyses is laid by experimental work which establishes the solid phase density of WTP sludges. Additionally, alum sludges are found to contain pseudoböhmite, while 2-line ferrihydrite and goethite are identified in ferric sludges.

A key hypothesis is that dewaterability is partly determined by the treatment conditions. To investigate this, numerous WTP sludges were studied that had been generated under diverse conditions: some plant samples were obtained, and the remainder were generated in the laboratory (results were consistent). Dewaterability was characterised for each sludge in concentration ranges relevant to settling, centrifugation and filtration using models developed by Landman and White inter alia; it is expressed in terms of both equilibrium and kinetic parameters, py(φ) and R(φ) respectively.
This work confirmed that dewaterability is significantly influenced by treatment conditions.
The strongest correlations were observed when varying coagulation pH and coagulant dose. At high doses precipitated coagulant controls the sludge behaviour, and dewaterability is poor. Dewaterability deteriorates as pH is increased for high-dose alum sludges; other sludges are less sensitive to pH. These findings can be linked to the faster coagulation dynamics prevailing at high coagulant and alkali dose.
Alum and ferric sludges in general had comparable dewaterabilities, and the characteristics of a magnesium sludge were similar too.
Small effects on dewaterability were observed in response to variations in raw water organic content and shearing. Polymer flocculation and conditioning appeared mainly to affect dewaterability at low sludge concentrations. Ageing did not produce clear changes in dewaterability.
Dense, compact particles are known to dewater better than ‘fluffy’ aggregates or flocs usually encountered in drinking water treatment. This explains the superior dewaterability of a sludge containing powdered activated carbon (PAC). Even greater improvements were observed following a cycle of sludge freezing and thawing for a wide range of WTP sludges.

Further aspects considered in the present work include deviations from simplifying assumptions that are usually made. Specifically: investigation of long-time dewatering behaviour, wall effects, non-isotropic stresses, and reversibility of dewatering (or ‘elasticity’).
Several other results and conclusions, of both theoretical and experimental nature, are presented on topics of subsidiary or peripheral interest that are nonetheless important for establishing a reliable basis for research in this area.

This work has proposed links between industrial drinking water coagulation conditions, sludge dewaterability from settling to filtration, and the microstructure of the aggregates making up that sludge. This information can be used when considering the operation or design of a WTP in order to optimise sludge dewaterability, within the constraints of producing drinking water of acceptable quality.


ageing;  aggregates;  aluminium sulfate;  centrifugation;  coagulation;  creep;  delayed settling;  dewatering;  elasticity;  ferric chloride;  filtration;  flocculation;  flocs;  fractal dimension;  freeze–thaw conditioning;  long-time behaviour;  magnesium sulfate;  natural organic matter;  polymer;  powdered activated carbon;  reversibility;  settling;  sludge;  shear;  wall effects;  water. 

Indicative translations of title

Trinkwasseraufbereitung:  Erzeugung und Entwässerungsfähigkeit des Schlammes
Trattamento delle acque potabili:  La generazione e la facilità di disidratazione del fango
Tratamiento de aguas potables:  La generación y la facilidad de deshidratación de fangos
Traitement de l'eau potable: La formation et la facilité de déshydratation des boues (schlamms)
Обработка питьевой воды — формирование и легкость обезвоживание осадков (шламов)
飲料水の処理 — 沈積物の生成とその脱水
Behandling af Drikkevand, Slam Produktion og Evne Til at Afvande [cf. Drikkevand Behandling, Slam Produktion og Afvanding]
Pengolahan Air Minum — Pembentukan Endapan, Produksi Endapa


Drinking water--Purification.
Water treatment plant residuals.
Water treatment plants--Waste disposal.
Water treatment plant residuals--Management.


Particulate Fluids Processing Centre
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Faculty of Engineering


Interactive version — see repository

Printed version — see repository

Errata, as at 01 August 2016

Citation data in RIS (EndNote-compatible) format

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