Lime is used for water softening, municipal sewage treatment, and industrial wastewater treatment.
Lime in Water Softening
Hard water contains dissolved mineral compounds, including calcium and magnesium, and the softening process removes them. It might seem counterintuitive to add calcium to water in order to remove calcium from water, but the process uses chemical reactions in a high-pH environment to form calcium compounds that precipitate into solids, which can then be filtered out. For example, calcium bicarbonate reacts with lime to create calcium carbonate and water.
Lime in Municipal Sewage Treatment
As with water softening, lime raises the pH of sewage water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from organic sources, which can cause algae blooms. In the high-pH environment, lime combines with phosphorus to create calcium phosphates, which precipitate out of the water as a solid. “Ammonia stripping” uses that same high-pH environment to release nitrogen (as ammonium hydroxide) into the atmosphere, in the form of gas.
Lime in Industrial Wastewater Treatment
Many industrial processes such as mining to steelmaking or fruit canning -generate acidic wastewater, which must be treated before release. Lime serves to neutralize acids while also precipitating various metals into solids that can be recovered. Other, more caustic agents, such as caustic soda, could perform similar functions, but lime is cheaper and safer to handle, and its resulting sludge captures more metals with less tendency to leach them out.