Dissolved Air Flotation

Dissolved air flotation (DAF) is a process commonly used in refineries to enhance oil and suspended solids from gravity-separator effluent. In some refineries it is used as a secondary clarifier for activated sludge systems and as a sludge thickener. The process involves pressurizing the influent or recycled wastewater at 3-5 atm (40-70 psig) then releasing the pressure, which creates minute bubbles that float the suspended and oily particulates to the surface. The float solids are removed by a mechanical surface collector.

If a significant portion of the oil is emulsified, chemical addition with rapid-mix and flocculation chambers are a part of the flotation unit, breaking the emulsion and enhancing the separation. Chemicals normally used include salts of iron and aluminum and polyelectrolytes.

Dissolved air flotation in combination with flocculation can reduce oil content in refinery wastewater to levels approaching oil solubility [40]. According to Katz [41], DAF plus chemical aids for flocculation can be expected to reduce BOD and COD by 30-50% and to reduce total oil to the range 5-25 mg/L. Table 17 shows some data for oil removal from refinery wastewater [27]. Removal efficiencies range from 70 to 90%. The accepted design overflow rates for DAF units are between 60 and 120 L/min per square meter (1.5-3.0 gpm/sq ft) [17].

Dissolved air flotation equipment is available from a number of manufacturers. Packaged units of steel construction are available with capacities to 7.6 cu m/min (2000 gpm). The essential elements of the DAF system are the pressurizing pump, air injection facilities, pressurization tank or contact vessel, back-pressure regulating device, and the flotation chamber [40].

Three principal variations in the process design of DAF systems are full-flow, split-flow, and recycle operation (Fig. 14). Full-flow operation consists of pressurizing the entire waste

Table 17 Oil Removal by Dissolved Air Flotation in Refineries

Coagulant dosage (mg/L)



Removal (percent)





100 (alum)




130 (alum)








Source: From Ref. 27.

Source: From Ref. 27.

Dimensions 450 Boom Lift
Figure 14 Variations in dissolved air flotation (DAF) design. (A) Full-flow operation; (B) split-flow operation; (C) recycle operation. (From Ref. 40.)

stream, followed by release of pressure and bubble formation at the inlet to the flotation chamber. Split operation consists of pressurizing only part of the waste flow and diverting the remainder directly into the flocculation or flotation chamber. Recycle operation consists of pressurizing a recycle stream of the clarified effluent. The recycled stream usually amounts to between 20 and 50% of the oily wastewater flow. The pressure is released and the bubblecontaining recycle stream is mixed with the unit influent. Each of these variations has its advantages and disadvantages.

A relatively new design of a high-rate DAF unit uses a shallow bed system (Supracell) with only 3 minutes of retention time and operated at an overflow rate of 140 Lpm/sqm (3.5 gpm/sq ft) [42]. This unit has been used for industrial and municipal wastewater treatment and offers lower capital cost and headroom requirements. It was installed at a petrochemical complex in Texas as a secondary clarifier to improve the operation and the capacity of an existing activated sludge system [43]. In recent years, nitrogen has replaced air in covered DAF systems because of the potential for explosion. These systems are called dissolved nitrogen flotation (DNF) systems. The operations of DAF and DNF are similar.

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