The characterisation of polyacrylamide flocculants.
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Polyacrylamide is widely used as a flocculant but the influence of the molecular mass distribution upon flocculant activity is poorly understood. This thesis outlines the successful characterisation of ultrahigh molecular mass polyacrylamide solutions in terms of discrete solvated polymer coils and coil agglomerates. These features were correlated with the observed flocculation, demonstrating a number of solution state features required to improve flocculation activity.Aqueous solutions of polyacrylamide exhibit time-dependant behaviour affecting viscosity and polymer agglomeration. Improving the solvation of the polymer suppressed the agglomerates, as did manipulation of hydrogen bonding through the presence of salts. Limiting agglomeration through improved solvation apparently lowers a barrier to polymer interaction, such that the coils disperse but become more susceptible to reagglomeration under mild shear. These solvent modifications did not fully suppress the agglomerates.To fractionate polyacrylamide into a molecular mass distribution, flow field-flow fractionation (flow FFF) was chosen, coupled to a multi-angle laser light scattering (MALLS) photometer and a differential refractometer for molecular mass and concentration sensitive detection, respectively. For the first time, the analysis of high molecular mass polyacrylamides in water using the flow FFF-MALLS technique has been reported. However, a number of difficulties needed to be overcome, including shear artefacts, sample agglomeration and polymer-membrane interactions.Both polyacrylamide standards and commercial flocculants were amenable to the technique. Commercial flocculants were found to vary not only with regard to viscosity and mean molecular mass, but also with sub- and supramicron size agglomerates. The flow FFF technique is size-sensitive, which for some low molecular mass samples displayed an unusually wide elution profile, in apparent conflict with the molecular mass sensitive MALLS detector. It was concluded that polyacrylamide in solution exists simultaneously in three states: discrete polymer coils, entanglements of a several coils, and agglomerates with supramicron diameters.This thesis concluded with a comparison between the characterised polyacrylamides and observed flocculation activity on a standard kaolin substrate. Results show polymer with supramicron agglomerates produce the largest and most shear-resistant kaolin aggregates with a definite optimum agitation intensity. Higher molecular mass flocculants with less agglomeration bind fine particles under more gentle conditions but are deficient under increasing stress. Flocculants exhibiting coil entanglements showed poor activity and formed only small aggregates. A modified flocculation mechanism was proposed, in which supramicron polymer agglomerates play a critical role.
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