Electrical Properties of Colloidal Particles


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This figure shows a diagram of a Cottrell precipitator. An arrow pointing into a cylindrical chamber shows the path of soot laden smoke. In the presence of high DC voltage and both point and plate electrodes, soot particles are removed at the bottom of the chamber and soot free air exits the top. A photo shows the honeycomb electrodes of a modern electrostatic precipitator.
Figure 1. In a Cottrell precipitator, positively and negatively charged particles are attracted to highly charged electrodes, where they are neutralized and deposited as dust. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

Electrical Properties of Colloidal Particles (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

Dispersed colloidal particles are often electrically charged. A colloidal particle of iron(III) hydroxide, for example, does not contain enough hydroxide ions to compensate exactly for the positive charges on the iron(III) ions. Thus, each individual colloidal particle bears a positive charge, and the colloidal dispersion consists of charged colloidal particles and some free hydroxide ions, which keep the dispersion electrically neutral. Most metal hydroxide colloids have positive charges, whereas most metals and metal sulfides form negatively charged dispersions. All colloidal particles in any one system have charges of the same sign. This helps keep them dispersed because particles containing like charges repel each other.

The charged nature of some colloidal particles may be exploited to remove them from a variety of mixtures. For example, the particles comprising smoke are often colloidally dispersed and electrically charged. Frederick Cottrell, an American chemist, developed a process to remove these particles. The charged particles are attracted to highly charged electrodes, where they are neutralized and deposited as dust (Figure 1). This is one of the important methods used to clean up the smoke from a variety of industrial processes. The process is also important in the recovery of valuable products from the smoke and flue dust of smelters, furnaces, and kilns. There are also similar electrostatic air filters designed for home use to improve indoor air quality.


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e


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