Also known as activated charcoal, activated carbon has been used as a purification material since at least 1500 BC. In modern times, it was heavily used in the European sugar refining industry beginning in the early 1800s, and was used to clear noxious tastes from drinking water soon after. Today, activated carbon has many applications, as well as environmental protection.
Understanding Activated Carbon
To fully understand the environmental benefits of activated carbon, it is necessary to first understand what the material is and how it works. Activated carbon is created by slowly heating coal, wood, or any other organic material that has a high concentration of carbon. When heated in a low-oxygen environment, the material does not burn, but slowly dries out, releasing water and impurities. The final product is known as char. The char is then chemically and physically processed to create activated carbon.
What makes activated carbon so useful is its immense surface area. One pound of activated carbon has roughly the same surface area as six football fields. This is important because activated carbon attracts and traps chemical compounds through a process known as adsorption. This process binds the compounds to the carbon’s surface molecules, creating a type of film. A submicroscopic network of pores allows compounds to make their way through the entire piece of carbon, finding all the available spots for binding.
One of the most common environmental uses for activated carbon is in air filters for both home and industrial applications. In the home, activated carbon filters can remove VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are released from paints, refrigerants, cleansers, and other common products, as well as cooking fumes, pet dander, and other irritants. People with asthma and other breathing problems can particularly benefit from activated carbon filters, as they remove most of the environmental triggers for breathing difficulties.
Industrially, activated carbon is often associated with biogas cleansing. Bio gases are byproducts of the decomposition of organic material. They tend to collect around cow pastures, landfills, medical waste incinerators, and similar locations. The activated carbon traps the VOCs and other noxious materials found in bio gases before they have the opportunity to spread throughout the environment.
Activated carbon is also an excellent water purifier. It is used both municipally and at the home level to remove such contaminants as algae, bacteria, and pesticides from potable drinking water. It also traps noxious compounds, improving both the taste and appearance of water.
In addition, activated carbon is used industrially to treat contaminated waste water from industrial processing. It traps both noxious and toxic compounds, making the water significantly less damaging to the environment. Activated carbon is often impregnated with other chemicals to enhance its binding power with specific chemicals in the waste water stream.
One of the biggest environmental challenges of today is the amount of mercury released into the environment from industrial processes. It is a common byproduct of medical and hazardous waste incinerators and coal power plants, and is often found in natural gas reserves. Activated carbon acts as a scrubber, removing and trapping mercury from the emitted gas streams. This allows for safe, environmentally responsible disposal of the mercury, preventing it from entering the air and water.
Traditional aerosol propellants have developed a bad reputation recently, and for good reason. Used in everything from whipped cream spray cans to party horns, these propellants emit high levels of VOCs and hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) into the environment.
Activated carbon has a tremendous capacity for gas storage, and it is both nontoxic and environmentally friendly. It makes an excellent alternative to aerosol propellants. Activated carbon is also a great choice for oxygen canisters, carbonation dispensers, natural gas storage systems, and mobile air conditioning units.
Are you interested in purchasing activated charcoal for a specific application? Do you require expert guidance in choosing the right impregnation for your needs? With more than 70 years of experience in the activated carbon industry, Carbon Resources is proud to provide the most diverse line of activated charcoal products on the market today. They take pride in their individualized customer service, and look forward to becoming your one-stop shop for all your activated charcoal needs.