Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

Norma Alcantar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark Jaroszeski, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joyce Stroot, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter Stroot, Ph.D.


flocculant, nopal, prickly pear, sustainability, drinking water, kaolin, E. coli, Bacillus cereus


Throughout the past decade an increased amount of attention has been drawn to the water contamination problems that affect the world. As a result, a variety of purification methods targeted at communities in developing countries have surfaced and, although all have contributed to the effort of improving water quality, few have been accepted and sustained for long term usage. Case studies indicate that the most beneficial methods are those which use indigenous resources, as they are both abundant and readily accepted by the communities. In an attempt to make a contribution to the search for water purification methods that can serve in both developed and developing countries, two fractions of mucilage gum, a Gelling (GE) and a Non-Gelling (NE) Extract, were obtained from the Opuntia ficus-indica cactus and tested as a flocculating agent against sediment and bacteria suspended in surrogate ion-rich waters. Diatonic ions are known to influence both cell binding and mucilage properties, causing CaCl2 to be tested as a flocculating agent alone and in conjunction with mucilage. Column tests were utilized to determine the settling rates of contaminant removal from the waters and the precipitated flocs were then evaluated. In columns employing Kaolin as a model for sediment removal, settling rates as high as 13.2 cm/min were observed using GE versus a control (suspensions with no treatment) settling at 0.5 cm/min. B. cereus tests displayed flocculation initiation up to 10 minutes faster than columns treated with calcium chloride (CaCl2) when using less than 10 ppm (GE) and 5 ppm (NE) of mucilage in addition to CaCl2. B. cereus removal rates between 95 and 98% have been observed in high concentration tests (> 108 cells/mL). Tests on E. coli flocculation differed slightly from those seen using B. cereus with control columns requiring 5 to 10 minutes longer to begin flocculation and mucilage treated columns displaying signs of flocculation much earlier. Mucilage is an ideal material for water purification and contaminant flocculation because it grows abundantly, is inexpensive and offers communities a sustainable technology.