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International Journal of Advanced Science and Technology

Vol. 29, No.4, (2020), pp.8547 –8555

Cost/Benefit Analysis for the Use of Different Coagulants in a Drinking


Water Treatment Plant
Carlos Alfonso Zafra-Mejía*1, Juan Carlos Alarcón-Hincapié2, Álvaro Martín Gutiérrez-
Malaxechebarría3
1,2,3
Grupo de Investigación en Ingeniería Ambiental, Facultad del Medio Ambiente y
Recursos Naturales, Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas, Bogotá D.C.,
Colombia.
3
Departamento de Ingeniería Civil y Agrícola, Universidad Nacional de Colombia
1
czafra@udistrital.edu.co, 2jcalarconh@udistrital.edu.co,
3
amgutierrezm@udistrital.edu.co

Abstract
Water scarcity has increased and transformed into a global concern for sustainable
development. Safe drinking water is essential for the sustainable development of any urban or
rural community. Aluminum and iron salts are the two most used coagulants in conventional
water treatment systems for human consumption. Though, limited economic resources in
developing countries make it difficult to acquire these chemicals. Thus, there is an urgent need
for alternative coagulant studies to assess costs and benefits in terms of removal efficiency in
drinking water treatment plants. The main objective of this paper is to show a cost/benefit
analysis for the use of different coagulants in a drinking water treatment plant in a developing
country. The coagulants evaluated are aluminum hydroxychloride (PACl) + ferric chloride
(FeCl3) and aluminum hydroxychloride (PACl). The efficiencies of turbidity and color removal
of each coagulant and the associated costs of dosing these inputs for drinking water treatment
are studied. The results show that there are no significant differences in removal efficiencies of
turbidity and color between the two coagulants under study: PACl + FeCl 3 and PACl. Though,
comparatively the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 shows better color removal efficiencies, while the
coagulant PACl shows better turbidity removal efficiencies. Findings show that the cost-benefit
of the coagulants PACl + FeCl3 and PACl are 0.723 USD/% and 0.857 USD/%, respectively.
Namely, coagulant PACl + FeCl3 shows the lowest cost and the highest efficiency during its use
in the drinking water treatment plant under study. The cost-benefit ratio of coagulant PACl +
FeCl3 is 1.19 times lower compared to the coagulant PACl.

Keywords: Removal Efficiency, Coagulants, Water Treatment, Water Quality.

1. Introduction
Water scarcity has increased and transformed into a global concern for sustainable
development. In this regard, it is estimated that more than 2000 million people will be affected
by this water shortage due to population growth and climate change. Moreover, this water
scarcity has other pressure factors such as that about 80% of wastewater goes to river systems
without proper treatment (Abdo et al., 2020; Kalaitzidou et al., 2020; Zafra-Mejía et al., 2011).
Safe drinking water is essential for the sustainable development of any urban or rural
community. Thus, the treatment of water for human consumption aims to produce water with
appropriate physical, biological, and chemical characteristics in terms of odor, appearance, and
taste (Taiwo et al., 2020; Petri et al., 2009).
Coagulation is the most widely used unitary process for removing suspended colloids and
organic matter contained in raw water, and it seeks to change the surface chemistry of particles.
Indeed, this is the most common unit process used in conventional drinking water treatment
systems in developing countries; although the other unitary processes of water treatment depend
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International Journal of Advanced Science and Technology
Vol. 29, No.4, (2020), pp.8547 –8555

significantly on coagulation to achieve optimal performance (Zhang et al., 2020; Keeley et al.,
2016). Aluminum and iron salts are the two most used coagulants in conventional water
treatment systems for human consumption. However, limited economic resources in developing
countries make it difficult to acquire these chemicals (Raimann et al., 2020; Nouhi et al., 2019).
Thus, there is an urgent need for alternative coagulant studies to assess costs and benefits in
terms of removal efficiency in drinking water treatment plants.
Specifically, coagulation is the process by which the components of a stable suspension or
dissolution are destabilized by overcoming the forces that maintain their stability. These
components are represented mainly by turbidity and color parameters, since they refer to
suspended impurities that may be of mineral origin such as clay, silica, calcium carbonate,
sulfur, ferric hydroxide; or they can be of organic origin such as finely divided animal or
vegetable materials (Heddam and Dechemi, 2015; Davis and Edwards, 2014). The above
colloidal impurities have a negative surface charge, so the goal of dosing coagulating agents
(e.g., aluminum and iron salts) is to form hydrolyzed species with positive charge; which can be
agglomerated with the water impurities (Pramanik et al., 2015; Vieno et al., 2006). This is
carried out by means of a rapid mixture, which for the treatment plant under study is generated
by the principle of hydraulic jump in a Parshall channel, unit where the coagulant agent is dosed.
Subsequently, a relatively slower mixture (flocculation) is required in the coagulation
process. In the water treatment plant under study, this unitary process is performed with a
mechanical blade flocculator. This slow mixture will facilitate the agglomeration of the flocs
and allow for greater efficiency of turbidity removal in sedimentation and filtration processes
(Ma et al., 2019; Xia et al., 2018). Coagulants produce an affectation in pH of the water during
treatment, acidifying it, so that it is necessary after the coagulation process to make a pH
adjustment by dosing a basic substance such as caustic soda. In the water treatment plant under
study, caustic soda is used to adjust pH after the coagulation and flocculation of water.
Coagulation can be pre-supported by a chemical pre-oxidation process in which compounds
such as chlorine, chlorine dioxide or hydrogen peroxide are dosed, because they facilitate the
removal of organic matter, color, odors and flavors, and dissolved metals (iron and manganese
mainly) (Noh et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2018). This pre-oxidation process is also used in the
treatment plant under study, which is executed by hydrogen peroxide and dosed prior to entry
into Parshall channel.
The main objective of this paper is to show a cost/benefit analysis for the use of different
coagulants in a drinking water treatment plant in a developing country. The coagulants evaluated
are aluminum hydroxychloride (PACl) + ferric chloride (FeCl3), and aluminum hydroxychloride
(PACl). The efficiencies of turbidity and color removal of each coagulant and the associated
costs of dosing these inputs for drinking water treatment are studied.

2. Materials and methods


2.1. Study site
The drinking water treatment plant under study is in the municipality of Tocancipá, in central
Colombia (4°58’12.44” N-73°55’01.62” W). This water treatment plant was under test during
2015 and subsequently started operation in 2016. The treatment plant captures water from
Bogotá River, which according to the local authorities' water quality classification is a poor
source. The design flow rate of the treatment plant is 300 l/s, however, during the study period
its average flow rate was 100 l/s. The hydraulic retention time of the treatment plant is 93
minutes and the treated water is supplied to 9193 users (82% of the locality). The treatment
technology corresponds to a conventional system, which has the following unit processes:
coagulation in Parshall channel, flocculation (vertical axis mechanics with pallets),
sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection with chlorine (Fig. 1).

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Sedimentation
Arrival chamber Water pumping
Filtration

Clorination

Flocculation

Parshall channel
Sludge drying bed
Sludge thickening

Figure 1. Unit processes in the water treatment plant.

2.2. Data collection


Raw water samples were collected hourly at the entrance of the treatment plant, before the
coagulation process in Parshall channel. Treated water samples were collected hourly after the
chlorination process, specifically in the storage tank. The volume of each sample was 500 ml
and it was verified that in each sample the containers were washed and purged several times
with the same sample. This is to avoid contamination of the collected samples. The sampling
period lasted 365 days, where turbidity and color were used as indicator parameters to study the
cost-benefit ratio of the two coagulants evaluated: aluminum hydroxychloride (PACl) + ferric
chloride (FeCl3), and aluminum hydroxychloride (PACl). The hourly information of water
quality parameters selected was averaged to perform the study on a daily time scale. There were
days during the study period when sample collection was not possible. This was mainly
associated with technical failures in pumping equipment and planned interruptions for
maintenance of the treatment plant infrastructure. These periods of non-data collection
accounted for 5.43% of the information. During the study period, plant operators controlled the
preparation of coagulants under study. The information on the coagulant concentrations was
collected on a daily time scale. This information was collected after a jar test was applied to raw
water and its dosage in the coagulation process. Lastly, information on purchase prices for the
inputs used for coagulation was collected.

2.3. Laboratory analysis


During the characterization of raw and treated water, laboratory analyses were performed to
determine color (SM-2120) and turbidity (SM-2130) according to Standard Methods (Baird et
al., 2017). The color was determined by the spectrophotometric method. This method was
selected because it is used for water analysis with complex and varied color components
(Kahraman and Şimşek, 2020). A T80 UV/VIS spectrophotometer was used for color
measurements. Turbidity was determined by the nephelometric method. In this study, a HACH
TU5 turbidimeter was used to measure turbidity.

2.4. Information analysis


Descriptive statistics and box and whisker plots were used in the information analysis to
study the data distribution. The daily cost in relation to the consumption of reagents used in the
coagulation process was also determined. The equation proposed by Zhang et al. (2017) was
used to study the removal efficiency of turbidity and color in the water treatment system. This
removal efficiency was calculated with respect to the inlet (raw water) and outlet (treated water)
of the treatment plant. The cost-benefit ratio relative to the two coagulants under study was

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determined from the equation proposed by Barstow et al. (2019). This equation considered the
daily cost of the reagents used and the removal efficiency of the water quality parameters
selected. All statistical analyzes were carried out with the software SPSS V.18 and with 95%
confidence.

3. Results and discussion


3.1. Removal efficiency of turbidity and color
The results showed that the coagulant PACl showed the best turbidity removal efficiencies in
relation to the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 (Fig. 2). On average, turbidity removal efficiencies were
99.1% and 98.1%, respectively. A Student t-test showed that there were no significant
differences in turbidity removal between the two study coagulants (p-value = 0.114). In fact, the
maximum efficiencies observed in color removal with the two coagulants were similar: PACl =
99.9%; PACl + FeCl3 = 99.7%. The results also showed that when the turbidity increased in raw
water, the removal efficiency of the treatment plant tended to diminish independently from the
coagulant used. In this study, turbidity of raw water was in average between 28.3 and 50.1 NTU.
Additionally, the results showed that the coagulant PACl + FeCl 3 achieved the best color
removal efficiencies compared to the coagulant PACl (Fig. 2). On average, these color removal
efficiencies were 99.4% and 98.2%, respectively. A Student t-test showed that there were no
significant differences in color removal between the two study coagulants (p-value = 0.135).
Indeed, the maximum efficiencies observed in color removal with the two coagulants were
similar: PACl + FeCl3 = 99.9%; PACl = 99.9%. The results also suggested that when the color
in raw water increased, the removal efficiency of the treatment plant tended to diminish
independently from the coagulant used. In this study, the color in raw water was on average
between 70.4 and 107.6 UPC.
1 2 3 4
Removal (%)

1 = PACl + FeCl3 (Turbidity)


2 = PACl (Turbidity)
3 = PACl + FeCl3 (Color)
4 = PACl (Color)

Coagulant
Figure 2. Box and whisker plot for turbidity and color removal in the water treatment plant.

3.2. Coagulant dosage


The results showed that to maintain efficiencies of more than 98% in turbidity and color
removal in the system, it was necessary to dose more coagulant PACl (22.4 ppm) compared to
the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 (16.2 ppm). On average, the dosing concentration of the coagulant
PACl was 1.38 times higher compared to the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 (Fig. 3). As expected,
when turbidity and color concentrations in raw water increased, the dosage concentrations of
coagulants also increased. Finally, there was a lower variation in the dosing concentration of
coagulant PACl + FeCl3 (standard deviation = 2.51 ppm) compared to the coagulant PACl
(standard deviation = 3.55 ppm).

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Concentration (ppm)
1

1 = PACl + FeCl3
2 = PACl

Coagulant
Figure 3. Box and whisker plot for dosage concentrations of the coagulants under study.

3.3. Hydrogen peroxide and caustic soda dosage


The results showed that the dosing concentration of hydrogen peroxide tended to increase
when the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 was used. Specifically, the concentration increased 1.15 times
compared to the coagulant PACl. On average, dosage concentrations of hydrogen peroxide were
2.92 ppm and 2.53 ppm for the coagulants PACl + FeCl3 and PACl, respectively. The findings
also showed greater variability in the concentration of hydrogen peroxide dosing when the
coagulant PACl was used (between 2-3 ppm), while with the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 the dosage
concentration was on average around 3 ppm (Fig. 4). Hydrogen peroxide in the water treatment
plant was used to perform chemical pre-oxidation before the coagulation – flocculation process.

1 = Hydrogen peroxide (PACl + FeCl3)


2 = Caustic soda (PACl)
3 = Hydrogen peroxide (PACl + FeCl3) 4
4 = Caustic soda (PACl)
Concentration (ppm)

3
1 2

Water-dosed reagent
Figure 4. Box and whisker plot for dosing concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and caustic
soda.
Additionally, the results revealed that the dosage concentration of caustic soda tended to
decrease when the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 was used. Specifically, the concentration decreased
1.22 times compared to the coagulant PACl. On average, dosage concentrations of caustic soda
were 2.81 ppm and 3.44 ppm for the coagulants PACl + FeCl3 and PACl, respectively. The
findings also showed greater variability in the dosage concentration of caustic soda when the
coagulant PACl was used (between 3-4 ppm), while with the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 the dosage

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concentration was on average around 3 ppm (Fig. 4). Caustic soda was used in the water
treatment plant to stabilize pH after the coagulation - flocculation process.

3.4. Cost/benefit analysis


The results showed that the purchase prices of coagulants PACl + FeCl3 and PACl were 0.561
USD/kg and 0.528 USD/kg, respectively (Table 1). Namely, coagulant PACl + FeCl3 was 6.25%
more expensive. The daily costs of coagulation – flocculation process using the coagulants PACl
+ FeCl3 and PACl were 71.4 USD and 84.5 USD, respectively. That is, the daily cost with the
coagulant PACl was observed to be 18.3% higher compared to the coagulant PACl + FeCl3. The
annual difference in cost between the two coagulants under study was 4782 USD. On average,
removal efficiencies of turbidity and color during the use of coagulants PACl + FeCl3 and PACl
were 98.7% and 98.6%, respectively.
The daily cost-benefit from the use of each coagulant was determined by the relationship
between the daily cost per dosage and the average efficiency of turbidity and color removal.
Results showed that the cost-benefit of the coagulants PACl + FeCl3 and PACl was 0.723
USD/% and 0.857 USD/%, respectively. In other words, the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 showed the
lowest cost and the highest efficiency during its use in the water treatment plant under study.
The cost-benefit ratio of coagulant PACl + FeCl3 was 1.19 times lower compared to the
coagulant PACl.

Table 1. Cost of water treatment with the two coagulants under study
Concentration
Dosed reagent Kg/day USD/kg USD/day
(mg/l)
PACl + FeCl3
H2O2 2.92 13.0 1.309 16.5
NaOH 2.81 12.0 1.281 15.6
FeCl3 + PACl 16.2 70.0 0.561 39.3
Total cost 71.4
PACl
H2O2 2.50 11.0 1.309 14.3
NaOH 3.40 15.0 1.281 19.1
PACl 22.4 97.0 0.528 51.1
Total cost 84.5

4. Conclusions
The results of this study showed the following conclusions:
 Results show that there are no significant differences in turbidity and color removal
efficiencies between the two coagulants under study: PACl + FeCl 3 and PACl. Though,
comparatively the coagulant PACl + FeCl3 shows better color removal efficiencies,
while the coagulant PACl shows better turbidity removal efficiencies. In this study, the
turbidity and color of raw water were on average between 28.3-50.1 NTU and 70.4-
107.6 UPC, respectively.
 Outcomes display that to maintain efficiencies of more than 98% in turbidity and color
elimination, it is necessary to dose more coagulant PACl compared to the coagulant
PACl + FeCl3. On average, the dosing concentration of coagulant PACl is 1.38 times
higher compared to the coagulant PACl + FeCl3.
 The results show that the hydrogen peroxide concentration tends to increase when using
the coagulant PACl + FeCl3. On average, the concentration increases 1.15 times
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compared to the coagulant PACl. The results also display that the caustic soda
concentration tends to decrease when using the coagulant PACl + FeCl3. On average,
the concentration decreases 1.22 times compared to the coagulant PACl.
 Findings show that the cost-benefit of the coagulants PACl + FeCl3 and PACl is 0.723
USD/% and 0.857 USD/%, respectively. Namely, coagulant PACl + FeCl 3 shows the
lowest cost and the highest efficiency during its use in the drinking water treatment
plant under study. The cost-benefit ratio of coagulant PACl + FeCl3 is 1.19 times lower
compared to the coagulant PACl.

Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank the Environmental Engineering Research Group (GIIAUD)
of the Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas (Colombia).

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