Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

Norma Alcantar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Babu Joseph, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Pichler, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter Stroot, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ryan Toomey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Maya Trotz, Ph.D.


flocculant, cactus, nopal, prickly pear, mucilage, green engineering, sustainability


The use of natural environmentally benign agents in the treatment of drinking water is rapidly gaining interest due to their inherently renewable character and low toxicity. We show that the common Mexican cactus produces a gum-like substance, cactus mucilage, which shows excellent flocculating abilities and is an economically viable alternative for low-income communities. Cactus mucilage is a neutral mixture of approximately 55 high-molecular weight sugar residues composed basically of arabinose, galactose, rhamnose, xylose, and galacturonic acid. We show how this natural product was characterized for its use as a flocculating agent. Our results show the mucilage efficiency for reducing arsenic and particulates from drinking water as determined by light scattering, Atomic Absorption and Hydride Generation-Atomic Fluorescence Spectroscopy. Flocculation studies proved the mucilage to be a much faster flocculating agent when compared to Al2(SO4)3 with the efficiency increasing with mucilage concentration. Jar tests revealed that lower concentrations of mucilage provided the optimal effectiveness for supernatant clarity, an important factor in determining the potability of water. Initial filter results with the mucilage embedded in a silica matrix prove the feasibility of applying this technology as a method for heavy metal removal. This project provides fundamental, quantitative insights into the necessary and minimum requirements for natural flocculating agents that are innovative, environmentally benign, and cost-effective.