Performance and life cycle environmental benefits of recycling spent ion exchange brines by catalytic treatment of nitrate

Jong Kwon Choe, Allison M. Bergquist, Sangjo Jeong, Jeremy S. Guest, Charles J. Werth, Timothy J. Strathmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Salt used to make brines for regeneration of ion exchange (IX) resins is the dominant economic and environmental liability of IX treatment systems for nitrate-contaminated drinking water sources. To reduce salt usage, the applicability and environmental benefits of using a catalytic reduction technology to treat nitrate in spent IX brines and enable their reuse for IX resin regeneration were evaluated. Hybrid IX/catalyst systems were designed and life cycle assessment of process consumables are used to set performance targets for the catalyst reactor. Nitrate reduction was measured in a typical spent brine (i.e., 5000mg/L NO3- and 70,000mg/L NaCl) using bimetallic Pd-In hydrogenation catalysts with variable Pd (0.2-2.5wt%) and In (0.0125-0.25wt%) loadings on pelletized activated carbon support (Pd-In/C). The highest activity of 50mgNO3-/(min-gPd) was obtained with a 0.5wt%Pd-0.1wt%In/C catalyst. Catalyst longevity was demonstrated by observing no decrease in catalyst activity over more than 60 days in a packed-bed reactor. Based on catalyst activity measured in batch and packed-bed reactors, environmental impacts of hybrid IX/catalyst systems were evaluated for both sequencing-batch and continuous-flow packed-bed reactor designs and environmental impacts of the sequencing-batch hybrid system were found to be 38-81% of those of conventional IX. Major environmental impact contributors other than salt consumption include Pd metal, hydrogen (electron donor), and carbon dioxide (pH buffer). Sensitivity of environmental impacts of the sequencing-batch hybrid reactor system to sulfate and bicarbonate anions indicate the hybrid system is more sustainable than conventional IX when influent water contains <80mg/L sulfate (at any bicarbonate level up to 100mg/L) or <20mg/L bicarbonate (at any sulfate level up to 100mg/L) assuming 15 brine reuse cycles. The study showed that hybrid IX/catalyst reactor systems have potential to reduce resource consumption and improve environmental impacts associated with treating nitrate-contaminated water sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-280
Number of pages14
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Bimetallic catalyst
  • Brine reuse
  • Drinking water
  • Hybrid treatment
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Oxyanions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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