Charge neutralisation is an important mechanism in (polyelectrolyte) conditioning of biotic sludges and required for efficient sludge dewatering. Based on results from streaming potential and zeta potential measurements, it has been suggested that charge neutralisation is more complete on the outside of the sludge flocs than on the inside. This paper discusses the development of a technique for assessing the spatial distribution of polyelectrolyte (PE) within sludge flocs. After flocculation with a fluorescently labelled PE, fluorescence microscopy can be used to visualise the distribution of the PE in the sludge flocs. Preliminary results indicate that the PE can penetrate relatively deep into the sludge flocs (and flocculi). Inhomogeneity in the PE distribution arises from differences in exposure to PE in different regions, and from differences in the affinity of the PE for different substances.
Keywords: activated sludge, flocculation, polyelectrolyte, fluorescence, microscopy