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Water Purification Technologies - Ion exchange

The ion exchange process percolates water through bead-like spherical resin materials (ion-exchange resins). Ions in the water are exchanged for other ions fixed to the beads. The two most common ion-exchange methods are softening and deionization.

Softening is used primarily as a pretreatment method to reduce water hardness prior to reverse osmosis (RO) processing. The softeners contain beads that exchange two sodium ions for every calcium or magnesium ion removed from the "softened" water.

ion exchange

Deionization (DI) beads exchange either hydrogen ions for cations or hydroxyl ions for anions. The cation exchange resins, made of styrene and divinylbenzene containing sulfonic acid groups, will exchange a hydrogen ion for any cations they encounter (e.g., Na+, Ca++, Al+++). Similarly, the anion exchange resins, made of styrene and containing quaternary ammonium groups, will exchange a hydroxyl ion for any anions (e.g., Cl-). The hydrogen ion from the cation exchanger unites with the hydroxyl ion of the anion exchanger to form pure water.

These resins may be packaged in separate bed exchangers with separate units for the cation and anion exchange beds. Or, they may be packed in mixed bed exchangers containing a mixture of both types of resins. In either case, the resin must be "regenerated" once it has exchanged all its hydrogen and/or hydroxyl ions for charged contaminants in the water. This regeneration reverses the purification process, replacing the contaminants bound to the DI resins with hydrogen and hydroxyl ions.

Deionization can be an important component of a total water purification system when used in combination with other methods discussed in this primer such as RO, filtration and carbon adsorption. DI systems effectively remove ions, but they do not effectively remove most organics or microorganisms. Microorganisms can attach to the resins, providing a culture media for rapid bacterial growth and subsequent pyrogen generation. The advantages and disadvantages of this technology are summarized below.

Table 2. Ion Exchange
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Removes dissolved inorganics effectively.
  • Regenerable (service deionization).
  • Relatively inexpensive initial capital investment.
  • Does not effectively remove particles, pyrogens or bacteria.
  • DI beds can generate resin particles and culture bacteria.
  • High operating costs over long-term.

 

 

 

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