Activated carbon, also called activated charcoal or activated coal, is a general term which covers carbon material mostly derived from charcoal. For all three variations of the name, "activated" is sometimes substituted by "active". By any name, it is a material with an exceptionally high surface area. Just one gram of activated carbon has a surface area of approximately 500 m2, typically determined by nitrogen gas adsorption, and includes a large amount of microporosity. Sufficient activation for useful applications may come solely from the high surface area, though often further chemical treatment is used to enhance the absorbing properties of the material.
- Physical reactivation: The precursor is developed into activated carbons using gases. This is generally done by using one of or combining the following processes:
- Carbonization: Material with carbon content is pyrolysed at temperatures in the range 600-900 °C, in absence of air (usually in inert atmosphere with gases like argon)
- Activation/Oxidation: Raw material or carbonised material is exposed to oxidizing atmospheres (carbon dioxide, oxygen, or steam) at temperatures above 250 °C, usually in the temperature range 600-1200 °C.
- Chemical activation: Impregnation with chemicals such as acids like phosphoric acid or bases like potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide or salts like zinc chloride, followed by carbonization at temperatures in the range 450-900 °C. It is believed that the carbonization / activation step proceeds simultaneously with the chemical activation. This technique can be problematic in some cases because, for example, zinc trace residues may remain in the end product. However, chemical activation is preferred over physical activation owing to the lower temperatures and shorter time needed for activating material.
Saturated activated carbon can be regenerated by heating.
A gram of activated carbon can have a surface area in excess of 500 m², with 1500 m² being readily achievable. For comparison, a tennis court is about 260 m². Carbon aerogels, while more expensive, have even higher surface areas, and are used in special applications.
Under an electron microscope, the structure of activated carbon looks a little like ribbons of paper which have been crumpled together, intermingled with wood chips. There are a great number of nooks and crannies, and many areas where flat surfaces of graphite-like material run parallel to each other, separated by only a few nanometers or so. These micropores provide superb conditions for adsorption to occur, since adsorbing material can interact with many surfaces simultaneously. Tests of adsorption behaviour are usually done with nitrogen gas at 77 K under high vacuum, but in everyday terms activated carbon is perfectly capable of producing the equivalent, by adsorption from its environment, liquid water from steam at 100°C and a pressure of 1/10,000 of an atmosphere.
Activated carbon does not bind well to certain chemicals, including alcohols, glycols, ammonia, strong acids and bases, metals and most inorganics, such as lithium, sodium, iron, lead, arsenic, fluorine, and boric acid. Activated carbon does absorb iodine very well and in fact the iodine number, mg/g, (ASTM D28 Standard Method test) is used as an indication of total surface area.
Activated carbon can be used as a substrate for the application of various chemicals to improve the adsorptive capacity for some inorganic (and problematic organic) compounds such as hydrogen sulphide (<math>H_2S</math>), ammonia (<math>NH_3</math>), formaldehyde (<math>HCOH</math>), radio-isotopes (Iodine-131) and mercury (Hg). This property is known as chemisorption.
Activated carbons are complex products which are difficult to classify on the basis of their behaviour, surface characteristics and preparation methods. However, some broad classification is made for general purpose based on their physical characteristics.
Powdered activated carbon (PAC)
Traditionally, active carbons are made in particular form as powders or fine granules less than 1.0 mm in size with an average diameter between .15 and .25 mm.  Thus they present a large internal surface with a small diffusion distance. PAC is made up of crushed or ground carbon particles, 95–100% of which will pass through a designated mesh sieve or sieve. Granular activated carbon is defined as the activated carbon being retained on a 50-mesh sieve (0.297 mm) and PAC material as finer material, while ASTM classifies particle sizes corresponding to an 80-mesh sieve (0.177 mm) and smaller as PAC. PAC is not commonly used in a dedicated vessel, owing to the high headloss that would occur. PAC is generally added directly to other process units, such as raw water intakes, rapid mix basins, clarifiers, and gravity filters.
Granulated activated carbon (GAC)
Granulated activated carbon has a relatively larger particle size compared to powdered activated carbon and consequently, presents a smaller external surface. Diffusion of the adsorbate is thus an important factor. These carbons are therefore preferred for all adsorption of gases and vapours as their rate of diffusion are faster. Granulated carbons are used for water treatment, deodourisation and separation of components of flow system. GAC can be either in the granular form or extruded. GAC is designated by sizes such as 8x20, 20x40, or 8x30 for liquid phase applications and 4x6, 4x8 or 4x10 for vapour phase applications. A 20x40 carbon is made of particles that will pass through a U.S. Standard Mesh Size No. 20 sieve (0.84 mm) (generally specified as 85% passing) but be retained on a U.S. Standard Mesh Size No. 40 sieve (0.42 mm) (generally specified as 95% retained). AWWA (1992) B604 uses the 50-mesh sieve (0.297 mm) as the minimum GAC size. The most popular aqueous phase carbons are the 12x40 and 8x30 sizes because they have a good balance of size, surface area, and headloss characteristics.
Pelleted activated carbon
Consists of extruded and cylindrical shaped activated carbon with diameters from 0.8 to 5 mm. These are mainly used for gas phase applications because of their low pressure drop, high mechanical strength and low dust content.
Porous carbons containing several types of inorganic impregnant such as iodine, silver, cation such as Al, Mn, Zn, Fe, Li, Ca have also been prepared for specific application in air pollution control especially in museums and galleries. Silver loaded activated carbon is used as an adsorbent for purifications of domestic water. Drinking water can be obtained from natural water by treating the natural water with a mixture of activated carbon and flocculating agent Al(OH)3. Impregnated carbons are also used for the adsorption of H2S and mercaptans. Adsorption rates for H2S as high as 50% by weight have been reported.
Polymers coated carbon
This is a process by which a porous carbon can be coated with a biocompatible polymer to give a smooth and permeable coat without blocking the pores. The resulting carbon is useful for hemoperfusion. Hemoperfusion is a treatment technique in which large volumes of the patient's blood are passed over an absorbent substance in order to remove toxic substances from the blood.
Activated carbon is also available in special forms such as cloths and fibres.
Properties of activated carbon
- Iodine Number
It is the most fundamental parameter used to characterize activated carbon performance. It is a measure of activity level (higher number indicates higher degree of activation). It is a measure of the micropore content of the activated carbon (0 to 20 Å, or up to 2 nm) by adsorption of iodine from solution. It is equivalent to surface area of activated carbon between 900 m²/g and 1100 m²/g. It is the standard measure for liquid phase applications.
- Apparent density
Higher density provides greater volume activity and normally indicates better quality activated carbon.
- Hardness/abrasion number
It is a measure of the activated carbon’s resistance to attrition. It is important indicator of activated carbon to maintain its physical integrity and withstand frictional forces imposed by backwashing, etc. There are large differences in the hardness of activated carbons, depending on the raw material and activity level.
- Ash content
It reduces the overall activity of activated carbon. It reduces the efficiency of reactivation. The metals (Fe2O3) can leach out of activated carbon resulting in discoloration. Acid/water soluble ash content is more significant than total ash content.
- Carbon tetrachloride activity
Measurement of the porosity of an activated carbon by the adsorption of saturated carbon tetrachloride vapour.
- Particle size distribution
The finer the particle size of an activated carbon, the better the access to the surface area and the faster the rate of adsorption kinetics. In vapour phase systems this needs to be considered against pressure drop, which will affect energy cost. Careful consideration of particle size distribution can provide significant operating benefits.
Examples of adsorption
The most commonly encountered form of chemisorption in industry, occurs when a solid catalyst interacts with a gaseous feedstock, the reactant/s. The adsorption of reactant/s to the catalyst surface creates a chemical bond, altering the electron density around the reactant molecule and allowing it to undergo reactions that would not normally be available to it.
Adsorption refrigeration and heat pump cycles rely on the adsorption of a refrigerant gas into an adsorbent at low pressure and subsequent desorption by heating. The adsorbent acts as a "chemical compressor" driven by heat and is, from this point of view, the "pump" of the system. It consists of a solar collector, a condenser or heat-exchanger and an evaporator that is placed in a refrigerator box. The inside of the collector is lined with an adsorption bed packed with activated carbon absorbed with methanol. The refrigerator box is insulated filled with water. The activated carbon can adsorb a large amount of methanol vapours in ambient temperature and desorb it at a higher temperature (around 100 degrees Celsius). During the daytime, the sunshine irradiates the collector, so the collector is heated up and the methanol is desorbed from the activated carbon. In desorption, the liquid methanol adsorbed in the charcoal heats up and vaporizes. The methanol vapour condenses and is stored in the evaporator.
At night, the collector temperature decreases to the ambient temperature, and the charcoal adsorbs the methanol from the evaporator. The liquid methanol in the evaporator vaporizes and adsorbs the heat from the water contained in the trays. Since adsorption is a process of releasing heat, the collector must be cooled efficiently at night. As mentioned above, the adsorption refrigeration system operates in an intermittent way to produce the refrigerating effect.
Helium gas can also be 'pumped' by thermally cycling activated carbon 'sorption pumps' between 4 Kelvin and higher temperatures. An example of this is to provide the cooling power for the Oxford Instruments AST series dilution refrigerators. 3He vapour is pumped from the surface of the dilute phase of a mixture of liquid 4He and its isotope 3He. The 3He is adsorbed onto the surfaces of the carbon at low temperature (typically <4K), the regeneration of the pump between 20 - 40K returns the 3He to the concentrated phase of the liquid mixture. Cooling occurs at the interface between the two liquid phases as 3He 'evaporates' across the phase boundary. If more than one pump is present in the system a continuous flow of gas and hence constant cooling power can be obtained, by having one sorption pump regenerating while the other is pumping. Systems such as this allow temperatures as low as 10mK (0.01 Kelvin) to be obtained with very few moving parts.
SERS is totally dependent on the interactions between a usually metalic enhancing surface and the adsorbed analytes and leads to the amplification of the usually very weak emission of raman radiation—characteristic of the molecule which is adsorbed. If the surface plasmon wave of the enhancing surface is of a specific frequency [depending on the excitation laser used] super enhancement can be achieved and is known as SERRS—Surface Enhanced Raman Resonance Spectroscopy.
Activated carbon is used in gas purification, metal extraction, water purification, medicine, sewage treatment, air filters in gas masks and filter masks, filters in compressed air and many other applications.
- Spill cleanup
- Groundwater remediation
- Drinking water filtration
- Air Purification
- Volatile organic compounds capture from painting, dry cleaning and other processes
Activated carbon is used to treat poisonings and overdoses following oral ingestion. It prevents absorption of the poison by the gastrointestinal tract. In cases of suspected poisoning, medical personnel either administer activated carbon on the scene or at a hospital's emergency department. Dosing is usually empirical at 1 gram/kg of body weight, usually given every 2 hours. Activated carbon has become the treatment of choice for many poisonings, and other decontamination methods such as ipecac-induced emesis or stomach pumps are now used rarely.
Mechanisms of action:
- Binding of the toxin to prevent stomach and intestinal absorption. Binding is reversible so a cathartic such as sorbitol may be added as well.
- It interrupts the enterohepatic circulation of some drugs/toxins and their metabolites
- Allows certain drugs/toxins to be drawn out of the blood and bind to the charcoal in the intestine - a kind of "gut dialysis"
Incorrect application (e.g. into the lungs) results in pulmonary aspiration which can sometimes be fatal if immediate medical treatment is not initiated. The use of activated charcoal is contraindicated when the ingested substance is an acid, an alkali, or a petroleum product.
For pre-hospital use, it comes in plastic tubes or bottles, commonly 12.5 or 25 grams, pre-mixed with water. The trade names include InstaChar, SuperChar, Actidose, and Liqui-Char, but it is commonly called simply Activated Charcoal.
Filters with activated carbon are usually used in compressed air and gas purification to remove oil vapours, odours, and other hydrocarbons from the air. The most common designs use a 1 stage or 2 stage filtration principle where activated carbon is embedded inside the filter media. Activated charcoal is also used in spacesuit Primary Life Support Systems.
Activated carbon filters can be used to filter vodka of organic impurities. Since the activated carbon does not bind well to alcohols, the percentage of ethanol is not significantly affected, but the carbon will bind to and remove many organic impurities which can affect color, taste, and odor. Passing an organically impure vodka through an activated carbon filter 6-12 times (or through the same number of filters in one pass) will result in vodka with an identical alcohol content and significantly increased organic purity, as judged by odor and taste. 
In traditional medicine
In the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West - chapter 69, one of the ingredients used to cure the mysterious malady of the king was 'soot scraped from a cooking pot'.
- ↑ Elliott C, Colby T, Kelly T, Hicks H (1989). "Charcoal lung. Bronchiolitis obliterans after aspiration of activated charcoal". Chest 96 (3): 672-4. PMID 2766830.
- ↑ Practical Applications of the Philosopher's Stone, Oh My God It Burns!
- Activated Carbon Supplier
- Activated Carbon Filtration for Household Water Supplies
- Activated Carbon 101
- Activated Carbon - What is it, How Does It Work?bg:Активен въглен
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