Filtration with Activated Carbon

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Along with aeration, granular activated carbon (GAC) and powdered activated carbon (PAC) are suitable treatments for removal of organic contaminants such as VOCs, solvents, PCBs, herbicides and pesticides. Activated carbon (Figure 1) is carbon that has been exposed to very high temperature, creating a vast network of pores with a very large internal surface area; one gram of activated carbon has a surface area equivalent to that of a football field. It removes contaminants by adsorption, a process in which dissolved contaminants adhere to the surface of the carbon particles. GAC can be used as a replacement for existing media (such as sand) in a conventional filter or it can be used in a separate contactor such as a vertical steel pressure vessel used to hold the activated carbon bed. After a period of a few months or years, depending on the concentration of the contaminants, the surface of the pores in the GAC can no longer adsorb contaminants and the carbon must be replaced.
Several operational and maintenance factors affect the performance of granular activated carbon. Contaminants in the water can occupy adsorption sites, whether or not they are targeted for removal. Also, adsorbed contaminants can be replaced by other contaminants with which GAC has a greater affinity so their presence might interfere with removal of contaminants of concern. A significant drop in the contaminant level in influent water can cause a GAC filter to desorb, or slough off, adsorbed contaminants, because GAC is essentially an equilibrium process. As a result, raw water with frequently changing contaminant levels can result in treated water of unpredictable quality. Bacterial growth on the carbon is another potential problem. Excessive bacterial growth may cause clogging and higher bacterial counts in the treated water. The disinfection process must be carefully monitored in order to avoid this problem. Powdered activated carbon consists of finely ground particles and exhibits the same adsorptive properties as the granular form. PAC is normally applied to the water in a slurry and then filtered out. The addition of PAC can improve the organic removal effectiveness of conventional treatment processes and also remove tastes and odors. Other advantages of PAC are that it can be used on a short-term or emergency basis with conventional treatment, it creates no head loss, it does not encourage microbial growth and it has relatively small capital costs. The main disadvantage is that some contaminants require large doses of PAC for removal. It is also somewhat ineffective in removing natural organic matter due to the competition from other contaminants for surface adsorption and the limited contact time between the water and the carbon.

 

Figure 1. Activated carbon material 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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