How Does Activated Carbon Work?

How Does Activated Carbon Work?

Activated carbon has been found to be the most effective material known for the purification of gasses and liquids for special purposes.

-Irving Langmuir, Chemist & Nobel Laureate

Carbon is one of the basic building blocks of life, it is a chemical element that is in everything. Activated carbon, in layman's terms, is carbon that is “activated” through extremely high temperatures in the absence of oxygen.

How Activated Carbon Is Created

Large industrial plants typically will typically carbonize raw materials, such as wood or coconut shells, and burn these materials in a kiln or furnace at temperatures ranging from 600-900°C in the absence of oxygen. The raw materials subsequently turn into charcoal.

The second part is the “activation process”, which can be using either physical or chemical methods. In the physical activation process, large industrial plants typically use rotary kilns or multiple hearth furnaces and activate the charcoal with gas at temperatures of 800-1000°C. The gas, which is usually steam or carbon dioxide, reacts with the carbon to create a network of pores within the material.

Irving Langmuir’s 20th Century Research in Activated Carbon

Irving Langmuir, a chemist in the early 20th century, took it upon himself to dive deeper into the research of activated carbon. He discovered that activated carbon is an excellent adsorbent, not to be confused with the term “absorbent”. When gasses would pass through activated carbon, some of the elements would adhere to the chemical structure of the activated carbon and not pass through the tightly packed pores.

Activated Carbon Applications

The beauty of these discoveries is that it paved the way for an immense amount of applications that we all use in our daily lives. For instance, the water that we drink typically passes through an activated carbon water filter. Unfiltered water contains a lot of harmful chemicals and impurities; such as pesticides, herbicides, and chlorine. As water passes through the activated carbon filter, the chemicals and impurities get trapped and eliminated by a highly bound network of pores. That trapping and binding process is called “adsorption”.

This process of adsorption in activated carbon is one of the truly great discoveries of this world, and has now made its way into a large number of applications, such as sewage treatment centers, water purification plants, and last but certainly not least, odor purifying apparel. Modern living certainly wouldn’t be the same without activated carbon.

Tootles underwear patented the activated carbon filter material for apparel, which is used to filter out odor particles in flatulence. Essentially, the hydrogen sulfide particles adhere to the tightly bound network of activated carbon cloth so it doesn’t get released into the environment, essentially “purifying the air”.

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