The complex nature of particulate matter in natural water resources and in waste waters is characterized by the heterogeneous distribution of particle size, shape, density, and shear strength. Among these parameters, floc strength is most important in the last stages of flocculation. Experimental data on floc strength based on different methods are assessed and correlated with shear gradients in different aquatic environments. The analysis of turbulent motion reveals that the energy which affects particle agglomerates is only a small portion of the totally dissipated energy. Among the different flow fields in turbulent motion, converging/diverging flow cause strain forces which prove to be critical with respect to floc rupture. Model calculations of the surface forces on ellipsoidal particles in pure shear and strain flow fields and corresponding experiments confirm the importance of converging flow. A comparison of modeled and measured rupture forces allows to establish relationships between floc size, strain and shear rates and resulting surface forces leading to probable floc break-up. Flocs of appreciable size (200 - 2000 μm) prepared for settling are likely to be ruptured under moderate velocity gradients occurring in flocculation tanks, whereas smaller agglomerates (< 200 μm) may withstand strain forces much higher than found under practical conditions. An example of model application shows the particle stress in the entrance to porous media filters where typically high strain gradients may easily lead to a breakup of flocs larger than 200 μm.

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