Some Facts Concerning Filtration.


(Read before the Liverpool Chemists' Association.)


The process of percolation has engaged so much attention of late years that it is not surprising to find the less important, although kindred one, filtration, somewhat neglected. It may be thought that all has been accomplished that could reasonably be desired for rendering this operation as complete as it can be, or that it is too simple to merit much consideration. Be this as it may, practical pharmacists know quite well that they are not unfrequently troubled to conduct it to their entire satisfaction.

The more serious difficulties connected therewith do not perhaps occur to each individual very often, hence the danger that the experience gained on one occasion is overlooked or not made available when circumstances again arise for its application.

The subject seems naturally to divide itself under three heads, viz.: The liquid to be filtered, the medium through which it is to pass, and the form in which that medium is presented. As it is not intended, however, to make these notes exhaustive, it will be unnecessary to deal with it in precisely this order. Let us rather take some facts as they occur and see if we can by their consideration render available anything of practical value for every-day use.

The most simple operation of this kind is to filter through paper in small quantity a liquid containing a solid body for which it has no affinity.

Text-books tell us at the outset that it is very necessary to use a funnel, the sides of which form an angle of 60°, this being the angle formed by the folded paper. Now I take exception to this very exacting requirement. We do not get our straining bags or percolators made of such a shape, and that because our experience teaches us how much more suitable is a form in which the angle is decidedly more acute; the same volume of liquid in this latter form producing a longer column, and consequently a greater downward pressure. Then, as to the paper fitting the funnel; we know quite well that all else being equal, the less perfectly it fits, the more rapidly filtration proceeds, so that, for any useful purpose it is quite unnecessary to insist on this very orthodox shape. One has, say, a pint of fluid to filter, and for this purpose a funnel of about 8 ozs. or 10 ozs. capacity is taken. I would use one of the long French pattern, fold the filter in plaits and before opening it out, place it fairly well down in its position in the funnel; or if there were reasons for not plaiting the filter, then it should be folded first in half, and then the two outer portions, representing rather more than one-eighth each of the entire paper, should be turned back so as to overlap each other slightly at the top, and not to form a very acute point. In either case, the paper whilst being fairly well supported would have comparatively little surface adhesion, and but small resistance would be offered to the passage of the fluid in any part. Funnels of this shape in much larger sizes can be used with advantage, but it is then desirable to have them ribbed. The ribs of funnels (especially of large ones) to be of any real value should be much deeper than they usually are, and should not run vertically, but spirally. A piece of muslin placed between the paper and funnel not only strengthens and supports the paper, but assists filtration by preventing adhesion; a cone formed of coarse hair cloth is still better. For larger sizes, say of from 4 to 8 pints, it is advantageous to dispense with the funnel altogether, and to use an inverted cone formed of linen or stout calico; the edges being fastened to a wooden hoop, which, resting on a deep earthenware pan, forms an efficient support for the paper, the liquid passing through with equal facility over the entire surface, a suitable cover placed over it excluding the air, and the process goes on under comparatively satisfactory conditions. A self-feeding arrangement can be fitted to this, if it be so desired, in a very simple manner.

When, by exhausting the receiver, atmospheric pressure is brought to bear on the liquid in a funnel, then the latter should be of the orthodox shape, as with it air is less likely to pass; but this requirement militates against the advantages that, such a method would otherwise possess. The point of the filter should be supported by a cone of platinum or zinc, or by a packing of tow or prepared wool.

English paper makers do not appear to have devoted much attention to the production of filters in any variety, and for this reason we derive our supplies chiefly from the continent. It is a well-known fact that holding almost any of the common filters up before a strong light they are seen to be perforated more or less with minute pinholes, so that when in use it is only after these have become filled up that the whole of the solid matter is separated, and the liquid passes through bright. Each time a fresh portion of liquid is added, the disturbance caused thereby is liable to remove some of the particles which are acting as a filling, and if this occurs filtration again becomes imperfect. These filters, although very cheap, do not pay to use if time and convenience are taken into consideration. There is, however, considerable difference in the efficiency of the various kinds of filtering papers, even when free from this defect. The presence of animal matter, as in the gray filter, increases the strength, but diminishes its working capabilities, and the existence of mineral matters therein does the latter, but not the former. The papers specially prepared by Messrs. Schleicher and Schüll are practically free from all extraneous matters, the pulp having been treated with hydrochloric and hydrofluoric: acids, etc. They are an example of what can be accomplished in this respect, but at the same time they are too expensive for general pharmaceutical purposes, and, indeed, are only made in comparatively small sizes suitable for analytical work. For operations requiring filters of 7 inches diameter (before folding), the Rhenish papers, No. 595, are, in my opinion, the most suitable; for larger sizes the French stout plaited or plain papers, taken in all their qualities, give the best results. The French also make a papers especially suitable for syrups, thick to support the weight, and yet sufficiently pervious to allow of fairly rapid filtration. I find, however, in very large sizes, a double sheet of Rhenish paper in an inverted case of linen, as already described, answers even better.

Some fabrics, such as swansdown, close textured twilled calico, etc., filter as brightly as paper does, and may be used for that purpose as distinct from ordinary straining, provided the solid particles separate from the liquid in which they are suspended with ease, but when this is not the case they are of much less value; indeed, with paper as a medium, slimy deposits present considerable difficulty. Pepsin wine, prepared from the fresh, undried pepsin, might be regarded as typical of this class of liquids; the tendency being to choke up the pores of the filter almost immediately the operation commences. In such cases some kind of coarse straining material placed within the paper cone helps materially to obviate the difficulty. Hair cloth and thin coarse flannel answer well for this purpose; they operate by collecting on their rough projecting surfaces the larger proportion of the undissolved slimy matter, without becoming sufficiently choked up to materially impede the progress of the operation.

Succus taraxaci, as expressed from the root and mixed with spirit according to the B. P. instructions, is typical of a class containing a large quantity of starchy matter and where subsidence in a closed vessel previous to filtration is of great service. The liquor from poppy capsules, in the process of preparing syrupus papaveris alb., furnishes us with an example of a liquid containing a large quantity of albuminous matter and mucilage which, when coagulated by spirit, has to be filtered off, and here again subsidence in a closed vessel helps the separation materially. The greater portion of the liquor can, after a time, be poured almost bright into the filter, and the remaining soft mass. can with care be slowly pressed almost dry; the chief difficulty in this latter operation being to press sufficiently slowly to separate the liquid from the solid, and yet not to expose it to the air long enough to lose much spirit by evaporation, as in that case some of the solid portion would be again taken up in imperfect solution.

For removing suspended particles from strong acids, spun glass, known as "glass wool," answers best, but this might be regarded as straining rather than filtration. With ordinary liquids, when there is but little insoluble matter, absorbent cotton not only strains, but by fairly tight packing filters brightly. In cases where it is desired to save the deposit, and possibly to dry or incinerate it, asbestos paper can be recommended; the liquid passes through it slowly, but it is very strong, and it is indestructible by heat. Paper lint, as introduced from America some few years ago, answered well as a filtering medium, being both strong and absorbent; but I am not certain whether its manufacture has been continued.

So far we have considered filtration as conducted only in funnels or funnel-shaped arrangements, as the various forms in which atmospheric pressure is commonly employed are described in works which treat of such matters. They are chiefly those in which a long column of liquid is carried above the point of filtration, as in Mr. Proctor's arrangement; where exhaustion is obtained by means of a syringe underneath; or suction by means of a bent tube, as described by Mr. Schacht at the meeting of the Conference at Birmingham in 1865. Recently there has been advertised a "Filtre Rapide," in which the filtering material is placed on a frame or support rising up within the cylinder and forming a space in the centre into which the filtered liquid flows laterally to a receiver below. It is a compact and ingenious arrangement, but I have not any experience from which to speak of its usefulness.

To my mind upward filtration is the direction in which we should work, and from which we may expect the best results.

Some years ago Mr. William R. Warner, of Philadelphia, invented an oil filter on this principle, consisting of two vessels in superposition, measuring altogether about 40 inches in height by 10 inches in diameter, and which is said to be capable of filtering a barrel of oil per day. This, of course would depend on the nature of the oil and the temperature at which it is used.

Recently I have devised a form of upward filter in one vessel only, and have added to it a suction tube. It occupies comparatively little space, is simple in construction, efficient in action, and can be made by any tinman at little cost.

Upward filter.It consists of a plain tin cylindrical vessel (A) with a tap-hole (B) 1 ½ inch from the bottom; it is 22 inches high and 8 inches diameter. A tin tray (c and Fig. 2), 7 inches in diameter, with a vertical rim 1 inch or 1 ¼ inch deep, has a hole (B') in the rim; this and the hole near the bottom of the cylinder being fitted with a short female screw of the same pitch of thread. Over the tray the filtering material (D) (flannel, calico, paper supported by muslin, or any other that may be suited to the liquid to be operated on) is tied securely; it is then inverted and placed in the cylinder so that the holes B and B« are exactly opposite one another. A tap, (E) with a bend at a right angle is screwed in so that it holds the two together and assists a short leg (F) in supporting the tray in position. To the end of the tap is attached an india rubber tube turned on itself (G), or a long glass tube of similar construction (in fact like a large safety funnel deprived of the thistle head), which can be attached by a short piece of rubber tube. It will be obvious that any communication between the tap and the contents of the vessel must be made through the filtering medium which covers the inverted tray, and that any deposition which takes place must be on the bottom of the vessel itself or on the opposite side of the tray, but not on the filtering surface, and herein lies the special advantages of the filter I now introduce. The use of a long delivery tube is not new; it formed part of an oil filter patented by Mr. Britten, of Liverpool, some years before Mr. Schacht's application of it to his filter. Neither is upward filtration new, as already stated; but the combination of the two and in this particular form will, I believe commend itself to any one who will give it a trial.

The dimensions given furnish a filter of about 3 gallons capacity at a cost of some ten or twelve shillings.—Phar. Jour. and Trans., May 19, 1883.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 55, 1883, was edited by John M. Maisch.