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What is an Electrostatic Precipitator?

By Rolando Braza
Updated May 17, 2024
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An electrostatic precipitator, also known as an electrostatic air cleaner, is a pollution control device found in factories that emit gasses that include particles that pollute the atmosphere. This device catches the pollutants and releases the cleaned gas to the atmosphere through a stack. It is commonly found in industrial plants that produce materials like iron, petroleum, chemicals, metals, electricity, and cement.

There are two types of electrostatic precipitators — wet and dry. The wet type retrieves wet particles, including acid, oil, resin, and tar, from the exhaust gas. The dry type, on the other hand, is used to remove dry particles like dust and ash.

The process of extracting the particles from factory exhaust starts with ionization, where the particles are electrostatically charged. The plates or other collection mechanisms on the sides of the precipitator attract the charged particles, which are then neutralized before being released to a hopper. Finally, a conveyor transports the particles to the disposal area for proper handling.

An efficient electrostatic precipitator is able to collect as much as 99.9% of the particles from the gas exhaust before it is released into the air. Four factors generally affect the optimum efficiency of an electrostatic precipitator. These factors include the size of the electrostatic precipitator, the efficiency of the mechanism that collects the particles given a particular volume of gas to process, the chemical composition of the particles to be precipitated, and the voltage supplied by the power system to the electric field.

Several events could trigger the review of the operation of an electrostatic precipitator to make replacement or reconfiguration decisions. The equipment may have deteriorated, causing frequent downtime for the precipitator. The review could also be prompted by changes in products or production volume, or both. The review can likewise be an offshoot of stricter regulation on air pollution.

The review of electrostatic precipitator concerns can be extended to include corporate social responsibility concerns. Some particles that go into the disposal bin may be hazardous and may have harmful effects not only to the atmosphere but to the health of workers and the surrounding communities as well. The plant management team should review and incorporate efficient waste disposal technologies and equipment suitable in handling wet and dry particles retrieved from the gases. A company could also consider membership in safety organizations within and outside its industry to get updates on protocols for handling industrial waste.

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Discussion Comments

By Mammmood — On Feb 21, 2012

@allenJo - Well, even with this device your dust won’t just disappear, from what I understand. The electrostatic dust precipitator design incorporates a waste bin, just like you would have with a vacuum cleaner.

All that junk gets stored somewhere and you would have to remove it or replace I guess. At some point all things will break down too. So even if you have this device or a regular filter, your filtration will cease to become as effective as it used to be, and you’ll need to get a new system.

By allenJo — On Feb 20, 2012

@nony - You’re correct. I would be more skeptical of claims of 100% efficiency than I am about 99.9% efficiency. As for household use, I would love to get my hands on an electrostatic dust precipitator, if they make such a thing! Perhaps then I would never have to dust again!

Have you noticed that when you dust, all you do is spread the dust somewhere else? It’s still in the same environment, except that it may be on the floor or floating about in the air.

It doesn’t take care of the problem. I need a device that will suck all the dust out of my house, once and for all.

By nony — On Feb 20, 2012

@David09 - I agree. I do wonder about the success rate. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great, but why is it 99.9%? Why isn’t it 100%? I’m the kind of person who asks, “Why did the .1% get through?”

I’m not being cynical, just curious. But I guess you could only get 100% if you have perfect conditions for filtration, which you rarely do. Nothing operates at 100% efficiency, and I guess that an electrostatic filter is no exception.

By David09 — On Feb 19, 2012

Electrostatic precipitation is an excellent idea and I think it’s perfect for industrial uses. The article doesn’t say, but I think it would be ideal for residential use as well.

When I was overseas I used a HEPA filtration system, which was okay, but the filters were expensive. I was also told that the filters would become a virtual cesspool for collecting all sorts of bacteria.

In the end I didn’t really think it was worth it to continue using it. But after reading this article I think electrostatic precipitation makes perfect sense, and at 99.9% success rate, it would pretty much meet all your needs in the residential setting.

My guess, however, is that these units are probably too expensive and too large to be used in a regular household environment. It would be neat if they made portable units you could use at home.

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