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1.

Activated carbon for VOC removal pros and cons

Treatment of VOCs by employing physical, chemical and biological means has been the focal
point of research around the real world industrial processes for quite a long time now [1].
Applicability of activated carbon in dealing with VOCs has been investigated through case
studies for identifying the ideal conditions for industries with very high concentrations as
well as for indoors like offices, residential buildings and subways. The general principle of
VOC removal by activated carbon involves physical adsorption onto its surface. Primarily,
two methods are used for this purpose. First one involves the adsorption of dissolved organic
contaminants in the liquid-phase onto the activated carbon surface by physical contact. Fixed
bed and the pulsed/moving bed reactors are generally chosen for this purpose. Another
process involves removal of VOCs in air emissions by treatment by pumping the
contaminants through activated carbon packed bed reactors. However, the flammable nature
of carbon, difficulty in regeneration for solvents with high boiling points, action as catalysts
for oxidation and polymerization solvents to hazardous or insoluble substances, humidity
control requirement make the process of choosing the right size of particles for the activated
carbon, a tricky one. This is coupled with the fact that different compounds making up the list
of VOCs require separate combinations of carbon a various levels of concentrations and flow
rates. For example, in treatment of halogenated VOCs, the effectiveness of carbon is limited.
The research for the right combination of activated carbons is still being sought after,
especially for practical life situations is primarily due to two factors which are highly
advantageous over other methods The first one being the ease of adjustment for high inlet
concentrations and fluctuations and the second factor being energy recoverability using fuel
cells.
2.

Factors effecting VOC removal by activated carbon

The effectiveness of VOC adsorption applications by activated carbon can be attributed to its
high adsorption capacity owing to the high specific surface area and voluminous micropores.
Difference in pore size, surface characteristics and shapes are the three key factors
influencing the selection of activated carbon to suit a specific need. In general, choice of a
particular type or a mixture of different types of activated carbon depends on the adsorption
kinetics as well as feasibility on a practically applicable scale.
2.1.

Surface characteristics and size of activated carbon

Selection of an adsorbent especially for real life situation demands the consideration of both
the physical and chemical properties. A higher surface area of the activated carbon ensures
more sites for VOC adsorption but the pore size determines the appropriateness for a
particular VOC. activated carbon fibres (ACF), granular activated carbon (GAC), powdered
activated carbon (PAC), activated carbon fibre cloth (ACFC), spherical activated carbon
(SAC) and beaded activated carbon (BAC) are some of the industrially relevant microporous
adsorbents. The efficiency vs specific surface areas of activated carbon as well as the
performance of a mixture of different types of activated carbon in an underground subway
station were investigated by Son et al [2].
2.2.

VOC concentration

The physical and chemical properties of VOCs have a major role to play in their adsorption
onto the surface of activated carbon. As VOCs are combinations of various compounds with
different molecular weights, sizes, structures, functional groups, polarities and boiling points,
their relative concentrations are subject to changes. Relative humidity also plays its part in
the overall concentration as well as competes with VOCs for adsorption sites. The
fluctuations in VOC concentrations are one of the concerns regarding the effectiveness of
activated carbon methods and research in this area for balancing of VOC concentration has
been conducted by Kubonova et al. [3].
3.

Setup for effective removal of VOCs - challenges and solutions

Searching solutions for effective removal of VOCs in real life situations needs thorough
testing on multiple control factors like adsorbent type, thicknesses, shape and inflow rates.
One method of system design involves mixing different types of activated carbon. As
demonstrated by Son et al [2] and Jeong et. al. [4], a mixture of granular activated carbon and
constructed carbon was used in the activated carbon bed. Granular activated carbon was
found to have a larger specific surface area in comparison to constructed carbon along with
very good control efficiency on VOCs. The downside however, was the pressure drop which
was found to be higher than constructed carbon. The optimum ratio for GAC: constructed
carbon was found to be 3:1. In a subway ventilation system, the authenticity of the laboratory
results was tested for practical applicability. The indoors of such a system imply that the
concentration would be much less compared to industrial exhaust and a suction pump was
employed for the control process to collect the incoming air from the ventilation system for
measuring the gas contents in real time before and after the passage of air through the mixed

(3:1) layer of GAC and constructed carbon. The linear velocity for the incoming air was
maintained at 2.5m/s since to match the design standard of the subway ventilation system.
The overall removal efficiency of VOCs using this protocol was 75.4%.
Another approach for effective VOC removal as explored by Kubonova et al. [3] was to
experimentally standardize the conditions like minimal mean residence time for balancing out
the variations in the inlet VOC concentrations. GAC was used as the preferred activated
carbon for adsorbing the Isooctane which was the model VOC as the investigation focussed
on exhausts from paint industries. The applicability of the method to variable VOC
concentration was tested by balancing VOC emissions in waste gases from painting line for
railway axles. Concentrations of individual VOCs as well as the overall concentration and
their fluctuations were measure in order to standardise the procedure. The balanced state of
VOC concentrations was determined at the column outlet and if the column worked in a
quasi-steady state without the appearance of concentrations corresponding to sudden changes
in VOC concentrations at the inlet, the balanced state was reported to be reached. The time
cycle for determining the quasi-steady state was 24 h. Equal average VOC concentrations at
the column inlet and outlet during the cycle ensured such a state. The results showed a two
fold increase in residence time for balancing a real VOC mixture from industry paint shop as
compared to the model Isooctane. The nature of such a procedure indicates the specificity in
applicability of the method and the need to identify the parameters for balancing exhausts
from a desired source.

References
1. Bouchaala (2012). VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS REMOVAL METHODS: A
REVIEW. American

Journal

of

Biochemistry

and

Biotechnology, 8(4),

220229.

doi:10.3844/ajbbsp.2012.220.229
2. Son, Y.-S., Kang, Y.-H., Chung, S.-G., Park, H.-J., & Kim, J.-C. (2011). Asian Journal of
Atmospheric Environment, 5(2), 113120. doi:10.5572/ajae.2011.5.2.113
3. Kuboov, L., Obalov, L., Skovranek, L., & Troppov, I. (2013). The balancing of VOC
concentration

fluctuations

by

adsorption/desorption

process

on

activated

carbon. Adsorption, 19(2-4), 667673. doi:10.1007/s10450-013-9490-y


4. Jeong, J.-H., Kim, K., Kim, J., Son, Y.-S., & Kim, J.-C. (2011). Removal of Gaseous
pollutants using a mixed activated carbon bed in the subway. ICCAS 2011, 2011(10), 315
316.