Neutralization of Wastewater in the Chemical Industry


Neutralization is a chemical reaction involving an acid and a base to produce water and a neutral salt. As such, acids are substances that have the capability to donate a proton (H+) or accept an electron during chemical reactions, and they have a P.H of less than 7. On the other hand, a base in a chemical substance that produces hydroxide ions (OH) when in contact with water and they depict a P.H value of greater than 7 and less than 14. Strong acids have a smaller P.H value and high dissociation constants. In this case, an acid like sulfuric (H2SO4) breaks down to H+ and SO42- ions depending on the equilibrium constant of dissociation, which is higher than for weaker acids such as acetic (CH3COOH). Strong bases also ionize completely to form their precursor ions, unlike in the case of weak bases.

In the chemical industry, the production processes usually require the use of acids and bases. For instance, in metallurgy, acids such as sulfuric are used in pickling to get rid of the Iron (III) Oxide solid, which forms on metals as rust. Bases such as sodium hydroxide are used in the manufacture of soap and calcium hydroxide in used in factories to clean sulfuric (IV) Oxide from exhaust. Eventually, these substances are disposed of alongside other materials in the form of wastewaters and other forms. The wastewater is harmful when exposed to humans through corrosion of the parts of the body that are exposed to the untreated wastewater that is contaminated with strong acids or bases. According to the recommendation of the environmental conservation organizations around the world, such water should be neutralized before disposing of or recycling. 

Neutralization Techniques in Chemical Industry

Therefore, chemical companies are required to neutralize the produced acid or base using by before disposing the wastewater or making use of the same water after recycling. Industrial neutralization is carried out on a large-scale basis as it usually involves large volumes of substances. However, the concept used is as applied in the laboratory procedures for synthesizing and general neutralizing either bases or acids. According to Krista (2014), one of the critical factors to consider before the neutralization reaction for chemical industries is the selection of the right acid or base depending on the substance incorporated in wastewater that should be neutralized. The selection process is determined by factors such as safety and health effects of the chemical chosen, the cost of neutralization and convenience, and storage and location. In most cases, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide are used in the neutralization of a base and an acid respectively. The major function of industrial neutralization in chemistry is to reduce the hazards that might be harmful to the lives of human and other living organisms. This is because the level of P.H affects the lives of many organisms. For instance, the aquatic life can be jeopardized through death when exposed to highly concentrated acids or bases. Plants are also unable to nourish properly when exposed to extreme P.H conditions. This is because the process of water uptake by the roots is dependent on the P.H of the soil (Krista, 2014).

Neutralizing Acidic wastewater requires an addition of a specified amount of base to the acidic water-holding container. This is because adding a base to a dilute acid is safer than the reverse procedure, which is associated with explosion and vigorous reactions. For chemical companies to neutralize acidified wastewater, for instance, a known volume of the base must be accurately added to the mixture of the wastewater and an acid before disposing of appropriately. However, it is advisable for such companies to find the use of the neutralized water after recycling and elimination of the dissolved salt.  This water can be used to clean equipment in the production unit to minimize expenditures and to lower the risk of exposing the water to living organisms. It is important to note that neutralization is not a sufficient water treatment procedure for the chemical industry effluents. Other techniques must be accompanied by the production of clean water such as filtration and treatment to kill harmful microorganisms among other recommended procedures that are specific to given scenarios.

An example of a chemical production industry that utilizes neutralization reaction of wastewater is coal mining and processing. In this operation, the wastewater that is generated is made up of dissolved concentrations of sulfates and heavy metals. As such, the pyrites that are contained in the material acidify after being oxidized in the presence of bacteria (Kalin, Fyson, and Wheeler, 2006). These materials form an acid mine water, which must be neutralized and treated before disposing of into the rivers or other specified areas. The acid mine water can have a P.H of as low as 2.6 (Qiu et al., 2016). As such, neutralization of the acidic mine water takes place using Calcium Oxide, commonly referred to as lime and Calcium Hydroxide (Hydrated lime). The chemical formulas for lime and hydrated lime are CaO and Ca (OH) 2 respectively. For instance, when iron pyrites are oxidized in the presence of bacteria, the following reaction takes place leading to the production of sulfuric acid, which later forms the acidic mine water with other substances such as sludge (Kalin et al., 2006).


FeS2(s) + H2O (l) + 31/2 O (g)                            FeSO4 (aq.) + H2SO4 (aq)

The use of calcium hydroxide to neutralize the acid, the reaction proceeds via the chemical equation shown below (Silverman, 1967).

H2SO4 (aq.) + Ca (OH) 2 (aq.)                  CaSO4 (aq) + 2H2O (l)

 The neutralization reaction leads to the production of water molecules. Water can be recycled since it is an important substance that is used in chemical industries to dilute other chemicals to the appropriate concentration as required by the manufacturing procedures. Water is also used to clean equipment and machinery and as a cooling agent to avoid overheating of engines and machines. As such, it is important that the produced water be recycled and re-used in the industry. However, the wastewater must be treated and tested for contamination before utilization and channeling to soils for irrigation and rivers. Waste water must be appropriately treated after neutralization to meet the acceptable standards.


 The neutralization reaction is one of the important chemical procedures that are applied in various ways. As such, it is an important method for cleaning wastewater. It can be used in coal mining to remove acid components that are formed from the oxidation of pyrites in the presence of bacteria. This leads to the production of a neutral mixture of water and salt. The wastewater can be further treated using the appropriate methods and re-used in the industry or recycled via other uses. However, caution must be taken to ensure that the water is treated properly and used accordingly. The importance of recycling water is to take care of its scarcity nature, just like any other natural resource. This provides water that can be used to clean and cool machinery in industries and other domestic uses such as irrigation. Therefore, neutralization reaction is one of the vital procedures that can be applied in life.


Kalin, M., Fyson, A., & Wheeler, W. N. (2006). The chemistry of conventional and alternative treatment systems for the neutralization of acid mine drainage. The science of the Total Environment, 366(2), 395-408.

Krista W. (2014). The Basics of Chemical Reactions. New York City, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.

Qiu, G., Luo, Y., Chen, C., Lv, Q., Tan, W., Liu, F., & Liu, C. (2016). Influence factors for the oxidation of pyrite by oxygen and birnessite in aqueous systems. Journal of Environmental Sciences.

Silverman, M. P. (1967). Mechanism of Bacterial Pyrite Oxidation. Journal of Bacteriology, 94(4), 1046-1051.


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