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Activated Carbon and its Mechanism Image
Activated carbon is the generic term used to describe a family of carbonaceous adsorbents in a highly crystalline form with extensively developed internal pore structure. Many substance of base material are used to make activated carbon. The most common of these are wood, coal, lignite and coconut shell. For drinking water purposes, coconut shell is the ideal base material as it is hard compared to wood. Coconut shell-based carbon is predominately microporous and is well suited for organic chemical adsorption, including volatile organic chemicals while having higher chlorine reduction capabilities. Coconut shell carbon is known to make good tasting "sweet water”.
FX™ GreenBlock® are 100%
Coconut Shell Carbon.
Activation Process: The process of activation and good process controls are vital in the manufacture of good quality activated carbon that gives consistently high level of porosity. The process of activation includes first carbonization of the shell, which is achieved by slow heating in the absence of oxygen to form carbonaceous mass full of tiny pores. This carbonized base material is then activated at high temperature (1100 degree C) in the presence of steam with regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Activation temperature and the amount of activation (time) are important to create internal pore network and to impart certain surface chemistries (functional group) inside each particle of the carbon. In essence, the total activation process gives carbon the unique adsorption characteristics for the removal of pollutants.. Filtrex Technologies, unlike other manufactures, has the total activation, including the carbonization of the shell as a part of our manufacturing process. This total control enables us to produce consistently high quality of activated carbon.
How Activated Carbon Works Activated Carbon is extremely porous with a very large surface area. The reason that activated carbon is such an effective adsorbent material is due to its large number of cavernous pores. This provides a large surface area relative to the size of the actual carbon particle and its visible exterior surface. An approximate ratio is 1 gram = 100 meter square of surface area. The intermolecular attractions in the smallest pores result in adsorption forces. The molecules of the contaminants in the water are adsorbed on to the surface of the Activated carbon by either physical or chemical attraction. The two main reasons that chemicals adsorb onto Activated Carbon are:
   A “dislike” of water.    Attraction to the Activated carbon.
Activated carbon adsorption proceeds through three basic steps:
  Substances adsorb to the exterior of the carbon surface,   Substances move into the carbon pores   Substances adsorb to the interior walls of the carbon. Many organic compounds       such as chlorinated and non-chlorinated solvents, triholmethanes, pesticides and       VOC are adsorbed into the inner pores. Activated carbon is also effective in       removal of chlorine and moderately effective for removal of some heavy metals.
Important Properties of Activated Carbon Iodine Number, surface area, pore size and particle size distributions are the key parameters for effective adsorption of activated carbon. Premium Carbons have a minimum iodine number of 1100, ash content of less than 3% and bulk density of 0.45g/ml.
Activated Carbon Properties and ASTM
Adsorption Properties
The effectiveness of activated carbon is usually specified by the amount of a certain test chemicals it can adsorb per weight of activated carbon used. Activated carbon when used for filtering air and gases, the test chemical used is usually Carbon Tetrachloride, commonly designated as CTC and when used in filtering water and liquids, the chemical used is usually Iodine or methylene blue mixed with water.
Iodine Number
This number is tested using ASTM4607. A known quantity of activated carbon is ground into powder and mixed into a standard solution of Iodine in water. After mixing, a certain amount of the Iodine is adsorbed. By finding out how much Iodine is left out in the solution, we can determine how much Iodine has been adsorbed by the amount of activated carbon used. This number is usually expressed as milligrams of Iodine adsorbed per gram of activated carbon used. An Iodine number of 900 for an activated carbon is a good grade. A more expensive grade of activated carbon has an Iodine Number greater than 1000.
Surface Area
When looked under the microscope, a granule of activated carbon is full of tiny holes and it is these holes which give the activated carbon the large surface area. The larger the area, the more it can adsorb. Typically a teaspoonful of activated carbon has enough surface area to cover a football field about 1000m2/gram. To measure the surface area of all these tiny holes, a test method, known as the BET method is used. BET measures the area by determining the amount of liquid nitrogen needed to evenly cover the entire surface in these holes. The BET method is used in activated carbon research and is not a practical method to be used as a quality control tool. The Iodine number and the CTC number, both of which measure the adsorption capacity, are ordinarily used to monitor quality during production.
Physical Properties
Bulk Density
This is a property of activated carbon that is required by the engineers to find out how many kgs of activated carbon must be used to fill up a certain volume of tank or cartridge. It is known as the Apparent Density. A typical Bulk Density number to use for activated carbon is 450- 500 grams/liter (28-30 lbs/cu.ft).Bulk density is affected by the raw material used and the degree of activation. The density does not effect the effectiveness of the activated carbon measured in adsorption per unit weight, but will have an effect on adsorption per unit volume. The standard test method for bulk or apparent density of activated carbon is ASTM D2854.
Hardness Number
The harder the activated carbon, the less it will crumble into fine particles during handling and use. To define this property, a certain amount of activated carbon is put into a pan, together with some steel balls, and shaken for a defined period of time. That is why this property is often known as Ball-Pan Hardness. Weighing the carbon before and after the shaking determines the amount of loss. The percentage of the original carbon that is left after the shaking is the Hardness Number. 95% and above is a good Hardness number, and coconut shell activated carbon is the hardest. The standard test method for Ball-Pan Hardness of activated carbon is ASTM D3802.
Activated carbon is made by passing hot air and steam over coal in a kiln. Sometimes the resulting activated carbon is washed in a bath of acid, rinsed and then dried again. There is bound to be some amount of moisture left in the activated carbon upon final drying. Standard test procedure for estimating moisture content is gravimetric. Known quantity of activated carbon is kept in hot air oven for specific period of time and specific temperature. The same is weighed after the drying and based on the difference in weights, moisture content is estimated. A practical limit for the level of moisture present in the activated carbon, when packed at the factory is 3%. The standard test method of Moisture in activated carbon in ASTM D2867.
Total Ash Content
Activated carbon is made from coal, which is 85-95% carbon, the reminder is made up of various minerals. These minerals remains as ash when the activated carbon is incinerated. To test for the Ash Content, a known quantity of dry activated carbon is ground up into powder and heated in a hot kiln until all the carbon has been burnt off. The weight of the remaining ash, expressed as a percentage of the original weight of activated carbon, is the Ash Content of the activated carbon. Coconut shell activated carbon has usually lower ash content. The standard test method for the Ash Content is ASTM D2866.
PH Value
The pH value of activated carbon is a measure of whether it is acidic or basic. The pH of a neutral substance, such as pure water has a value of 7. A pH of less than 7 means the substance is acidic and a pH of greater than 7 means it is basic.

pH of the carbon is tested by using pH meter. Activated carbon, when coming out of the kiln tends to be a bit basic, with pH of around 8. Too high a pH indicates too much contaminants. Too low a pH, especially for acid washed activated carbon, means that the acid has not been properly rinsed away. Most of the activated carbon are specified for a pH of 6-8. The standard test method of pH of activated carbon is ASTM D3838.
Particle Size Distribution
Different particle sizes of activated carbon offer different flow resistance to air or water it is filtering. Typically, for filtering air or gases, the larger granule sizes are used, and for filtering water or fluids, the smaller granules sizes are used. Granules sizes are rated by the size of the sieve used to separate the particles. A #4 sieve has holes size of 1/4 inch and therefore, accounting for the dimension of the wires which make-up the sieve, each hole is then slightly smaller than 1/4 of a inch. Similarly a #8 sieve will have holes size slightly less then 1/8 of an inch. An activated carbon sized 4 X 8 contains granules that can pass through a #4 sieve but not through a #8 sieve and will have granules ranging from slightly under 1/4 to slightly under 1/8 inch. The proportion of the larger granules vs the smaller granules can be measured by using intermediate sieve sizes. The proportions of these intermediate sizes can be used to calculate the Uniformity Coefficient, which is a measure of how the fluids would flow around the activated carbon due the distribution of the various granule sizes. Common sizes for water particles are: 
8 X 20, 12 X 40, 14 X 40 and 20 X 50 etc. The standard test method for particle size distribution is ASTM D2862.