Shale gas has become a new sweet spot of global oil and gas exploration, and the large amount of flowback water produced during shale gas extraction is attracting increased attention. Internal recycling of flowback water for future hydraulic fracturing is currently the most effective, and it is necessary to decrease the content of divalent cations for eliminating scaling and maintaining effectiveness of friction reducer. Zeolite has been widely used as a sorbent to remove cations from wastewater. This work was carried out to investigate the effects of zeolite type, zeolite form, activation chemical, activation condition, and sorption condition on removal of Ca2+ and Mg2+ from shale gas flowback water. Results showed that low removal of Ca2+ and Mg2+ was found for raw zeolite 4A and zeolite 13X, and the efficiency of the mixture of both zeolites was slightly higher. Compared with the raw zeolites, the zeolites after activation using NaOH and NaCl greatly improved the sorption performance, and there was no significant difference between dynamic activation and static activation. Dynamic sorption outperformed static sorption, the difference exceeding 40% and 7–70% for removal of Ca2+ and Mg2+, respectively. Moreover, powdered zeolites outperformed granulated zeolites in divalent cation removal.

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