Activated carbon, also known as activated charcoal, has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its unique properties, which make it a versatile and powerful material. here, we will discuss the properties of activated carbon, how it is manufactured, and its various applications.
Activated carbon has a random and imperfect structure with macro and micro pores. The graphite structure gives activated carbon its very large surface area, which can range from 500 m2/g to 2000 m2/g. This means that just 3 grams of activated carbon can have the surface area of a football field! The effectiveness of activated carbon is increased with an increase in total pore volume (TPV), which refers to the total space of the pores in activated carbon expressed in milliliters per gram (ml/g). The significance of activated carbon lies in its unique distribution of pore sizes, where high distribution of mesopores is required for decolorization applications.
Activated carbon can be manufactured from many materials containing high carbon content such as coconut shell, wood, coal, bituminous, coir, lignite, peat, and petroleum pitch. Carbonaceous materials can be activated using two methods, steam activation and chemical activation.
Steam activation is the most widely used process to activate carbonaceous materials, as it is considered the best pollution-free method of activation. In this process, the material is activated with steam at a very high temperature, enlarging the pore structure and increasing the internal surface area. On the other hand, chemical activation is only useful for the carbonization of wood, sawdust, or peat. In chemical activation, the raw material is mixed with an activating agent such as phosphoric acid that swells the material and opens up the cellulose structure. It is then carbonized and dried in a rotary kiln at low temperature, resulting in a highly porous structure.
When selecting activated carbon, some criteria must be taken into consideration, such as resistance to abrasion, adsorption capacity, particle size distribution for optimal flow, rate of adsorption and desorption, consistency of product in applications, and presence of other substances that may affect or interfere with loading of carbon.
Activated carbon has a wide range of applications, including chlorination of hydrocyanic acid to cyanogens chloride and cyanuric chloride, glyphosate production as an oxidation catalyst, Merox process in mercaptan removal in petroleum refineries, production and destruction of phosgene, conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfur trioxide, and precious metal catalyst carrier in pharmaceutical and chemical industry. Its ability to adsorb impurities and effectively purify air, water, and other liquids makes it an invaluable resource.
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