Polyelectrolyte Complexes in Flocculation Applications

  • Gudrun Petzold
  • Simona Schwarz
Part of the Advances in Polymer Science book series (POLYMER, volume 256)


This review concentrates on the interactions between oppositely charged polyelectrolytes and on the formation of complexes, which can be used for different applications such as paper retention or water treatment. Three different possibilities for the appearance of polyelectrolyte complexes (PECs) in flocculation applications are described. Starting with the “classical” dual system (step-by-step addition of polycation and polyanion to a negatively charged suspension of fibers or particles), the interaction between a “soluble polyanion” (such as anionic trash) with polycation is described as well as the formation of well-defined pre-mixed PECs and their application as flocculants.

The influence of several parameters related to the characteristics of the solid materials (e.g., charge, particle size), the polyelectrolyte (e.g., type of charge, charge density, molar mass, hydrophobicity) and the flocculation regime (e.g., order of addition, pH, ionic strength) are discussed.

Research in this area shows great potential. Over the past 30 years, dual systems have been applied mainly in the paper industry. The application of PECs, described as particle-forming flocculants, provides new possibilities in solid–liquid separation processes. For an effective system, the application parameters have to be optimized (e.g. polymer type, concentration, charge, molecular weight). Therefore, direct and efficient methods for the characterization of the flocculation behavior (sedimentation velocity, packing density of the sludge, particle size distribution) are necessary and will be described.

Finally, the most advanced applications for PECs are discussed.


Dual system Flocculation Polyanion Polycation Polyelectrolyte complex Pre-mixed complexes 

Abbreviations and Symbols


Atomic force microscopy


Charge density




Critical micelle concentration


Carbon nanotubes


Carboxylated phenolic resin


Dissolved colloidal substances


Dynamic light scattering




Differential scanning calorimetry


Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy


Short-chained guest PEL


Humic acid


Highly cationic starches


High molecular weight


Long-chained host PEL


Lower critical solution temperature


Low molecular weight


Medium molecular weight


Poly(sodium acrylate)


Poly(sodium 2-acrylamido-2-methylpropanesulfonate)


Poly(styrene-p-sodium sulfonate-sodium salt)


Nonstoichiometric interpolyelectrolyte complex dispersion


Nonstoichiometric polyelectrolyte complex


Oligo-maltose-modified PEI


Poly(maleic acid-co-propylene)


Poly(maleic acid-co-α-methylstyrene)






Poly(acrylic acid)


Polyamideamine epichlorohydrine condensate


Poly(sodium 2-acrylamido-2-methylpropanesulfonate)




Polycation/dye/polyanion complexes


Polycations containing N,N-dimethyl-2-hydroxypropylene ammonium chloride


Polycations containing N,N-dimethyl-2-hydroxypropylene ammonium chloride with different hydrophobic units


Poly(N,N-diallyl-N,N-dimethyl-ammonium chloride)


Polyelectrolyte complex






Poly(ethylene oxide)


Polydispersity index


Copolymer of N-methacryloyloxyethyl–N-benzyl-N,N-dimethyl-ammonium chloride


Poly(isopropylacrylamide-co-acrylic acid)






Phosphonomethylated derivative of PEI


Poly(acrylamide-co-sodium acrylate)


Polyelectrolyte–surfactant complex


Poly(styrene sulfonate)


Poly[NNN-trimethyl-N-(2-methacryloxyethyl) ammonium chloride]


Poly(vinyl alcohol)


Dodecyl-amidoethyl-dimethylbencyl-ammonium chloride


Sodium dodecylsulfate


Small interfering RNA


Trash content


Total organic carbon content


X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy


X-ray diffraction


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Negatively charged particle

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Polyelectrolyte complex

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Negatively charged waste

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Star-like polymer

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We are indebted to many long-term collaborators and colleagues, especially to Dr. Stela Dragan and her group (Institute Petru Poni, Iasi, Romania) and to Dr. Svetlana Bratskaya (Far East Department of Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Chemistry, Vladivostok, Russia). The investigations with tailored polymers, especially hydrophobic PCs, were undertaken in collaboration with Prof. Laschewsky and his group (Fraunhofer IAP Golm, Germany). Above all, we would like to thank our unforgettable colleague and friend Dr. Werner Jaeger.

Financial support from the BMBF and AiF is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden e.V.DresdenGermany

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