How to Choose the Right Activated Carbon for the Job
Selecting the most cost-effective activated carbon for the job requires looking beyond per-pound price tags. offers a range of products of varying grades and characteristics. However, to determine the most cost-effective purchase, customers are advised to work with their representatives to evaluate price/performance characteristics in light of specific applications.
Based on the demands of the application, some activated carbons outperform others—and the difference can be substantial. One refinery reported a 64% reduction in reactivated carbon use during a six-month period when they switched from a general purpose product to a high-performance carbon. An electronics manufacturer more than tripled the bed life of its carbon in a groundwater cleanup project by changing suppliers. Clearly, buyers do well to extend their selection process to the investigation of where and how competing carbons are made—and from what.
Quality In, Quality Out
The characteristics and resulting performance of an activated carbon is directly related to the starting material prior to activation. Proper selection of a base determines a carbon’s inherent pore structure and will directly influence the properties and performance. Many buyers believe all carbons are alike, but in fact, in any individual application, there can be significant differences between products based on sub-bituminous coal, anthracite, peat, wood and coconut. To intelligently compare products, buyers need to know the source and base of any activated carbon under consideration. Proper selection of an application-specific starting material is crucial to the overall value of a product. It is the fundamental reason why some activated carbons outperform and/or prove more cost-effective than others in specific applications.
General-purpose carbons are often produced through a manufacturing process called “direct activation.” It begins with an inexpensive raw material and proceeds directly to crushing, sizing, baking and activation. To save production costs, the pulverizing, binding and reagglomerating steps are eliminated. While direct activation results in a lower price-per-pound carbon, it may compromise long-term product performance in many applications. However, in other applications, the same product may provide a suitable result.
Differences between high-performance and general purpose products affect different applications to varying degrees. General purpose products are initially less expensive on a dollar-per-pound basis, however, they may remove less organic contaminants, causing the user to change out more often to meet demanding treatment objectives. The adsorption capacities of many general purpose carbons are significantly lower. Typically, they are less resistant to abrasion which results in higher transfer losses (backwash) and fines. The general purpose products have approximately 6.2 % fines, compared to 0.18% for high-performance carbon.
Making the Right Choice
It is clear that the advice, “Caveat Peremptory—Let the Buyer Beware,” applies to companies selecting carbon based on price-per-pound alone. In many cases, general purpose carbons may provide satisfactory results and bottom-line benefits. In more demanding applications, however, higher quality raw materials combined with exacting manufacturing or reactivation processes result in activated carbons that, through higher performance, prove more cost-effective in the long term.