Phosphoric Acid Production

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The use of the electric furnace process (Fig. 11) and acidulation of phosphate-bearing rock is made commercially to produce phosphoric acid. In the first method, elemental phosphorus is first produced from phosphate ore, coke, and silica in an electric furnace, and then the phosphorus is burned with air to form P2O5, which is cooled and reacted with water to form orthophosphoric acid (Section 9.2.2). Extremely high acid mist loadings from the acid plant are common, and there are five types of mist-collection equipment generally used: packed towers, electrostatic precipitators, venturi scrubbers, fiber mist eliminators, and wire mesh contactors [21]. Choosing one of these control equipments depends on the required contaminant removal efficiency, the required materials of construction, the pressure loss allowed through the device, and capital and operating costs of the installation (with very high removal efficiencies being the primary factor). The venturi scrubber is widely used for mist collection and is particularly applicable to acid

Acid Phosphoric Pfd
Figure 11 Flow diagram of electric furnace process for phosphorous production (from Ref. 15).

plants burning sludge. The sludge burned is an emulsion of phosphorus, water, and solids carried out in the gas stream from the phosphorus electric furnace as dust or volatilized materials. Impurities vary from 15 to 20% and the venturi scrubber can efficiently collect the acid mist and fine dust discharged in the exhaust from the hydrator.

Wet process phosphoric acid is made by reacting pulverized, beneficiated phosphate ore with sulfuric acid to form calcium sulfate (gypsum) and dilute phosphoric acid (see Section 9.2.4). The insoluble calcium sulfate and other solids are removed by filtration, and the weak (32%) phosphoric is then concentrated in evaporators to acid containing about 55% P2O5. Mist and gaseous emissions from the gypsum filter, the phosphoric acid concentrator, and the acidulation off-gas are controlled with scrubbers or other equipment. The preparation of the phosphate ore generates dust from drying and grinding operations, and this is generally controlled with a combination of dry cyclones and wet scrubbers [21]. The material collected by the cyclones is recycled, and the scrubber water discharged to the waste phosphogypsum ponds. Most frequently, simple towers and wet cyclonic scrubbers are used, but at some plants the dry cyclone is followed by an electrostatic precipitator.


Phosphate production and phosphate fertilizer manufacturing facilities are situated in many areas in the United States (primarily in Florida and California) and in other countries such as Algeria, Jordan, and Morocco, as previously mentioned. The wastewaters from production and cleanup activities and surface runoff in most of these locations are stored, treated, and recycled, and the excess overflows are discharged into natural water systems. In those facilities where wastewater from production and cleanup activities and drainage are discharged into municipal water systems and treated together with domestic, commercial, institutional, and other industrial wastewaters, a degree of pretreatment is required to meet federal guidelines or local ordinances such as those presented in Section 9.4. For instance, according to the USEPA [6], the pretreatment unit operations required for the phosphate fertilizer industry comprise solids separation and neutralization, and it may be achieved by either a suspended biological process, a fixed-film biological process, or an independent physicochemical system.

9.6.1 Pebble Phosphate Mining Industry

In one of the earlier reports on the phosphate mining and manufacturing industry in Florida and its water pollution control efforts, Wakefield [31] gave the following generalized account. Because of the huge volumes of water being used for washing, hydraulic sizing, flotation, and concentration of phosphate ores (i.e., one of the main mines of a larger company requires about 60 MGD or 2.63 m3/s), and since makeup water is not readily available and excess wastewater constitutes a major disposal problem, the recovery and reuse of water have always been of great importance. Waste products from the mining and processing operation consist of large quantities of nonphosphating sands and clays, together with unrecovered phosphatic materials less than 300 mesh in size, and they are pumped into huge lagoons. Easily settled sands fill the near-end, leaving the rest to be gradually filled with "slimes" (a semicolloidal water suspension), while a thin layer of virtually clear water at the surface of the lagoon flows over spillways and is returned to the washers for reuse.

The above ideal wastewater management, however, is infeasible during wet weather (rains of 3 in./day or 7.6 cm/day are frequent in the tropical climate of Florida), because more water goes into the lagoons than can be used by the washers, and the excess volume must be discharged into nearby surface waters. In particular in small streams, this results in highly turbid waters due to the fact that the larger of the slowly consolidating slimes is near the surface of the lagoons in most cases. Furthermore, there are no core walls (for cost reasons) in the large earthen dams forming the settling lagoons; rather, it is usual to depend on the slimes to seal their inner face and prevent excessive seepage. The entire operation, therefore, involves a delicate balance of slime input and weir discharge to accomplish the objective of a maximum of water reuse with a minimum of danger of dam failure and a minimum of turbid discharge to the stream. Such dams have failed very often and the pollution effect of the volume of, for example, a 100 acre (0.4 km2) pond with 25-30 ft (7.6-9.1 m) of consolidated slime being discharged into a stream with a mean flow of possibly 300 cfs (8.5 m3/s) has been devastating.

There are, however, other much more frequent situations when effluents of higher or lower turbidity are discharged to streams to protect dam structures or as excess flow when it rains heavily. These discharges of turbid wastewater volumes may be due to underdesigning the settling lagoons or because the wastewater slimes are of a more completely colloidal nature and do not clarify too well. They usually continue over extended periods and cause noticeable stream turbidities, although nothing approaching those encountered after a lagoon dam failure. When streams contain appreciable turbidity due to phosphate industry effluents, local sports fishermen claim that it ruins fishing (but mostly they just prefer fishing in clear waters), while industry managers have demonstrated that fish are not affected by stocking mined-out pits and settling ponds with bass and other species. Finally, a positive effect of discharging moderate levels of turbidity noted in a water treatment plant located downstream is a decrease in chemical costs, undoubtedly due to greater turbidity in the raw water that aids coagulation of color and other impurities.

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