The Purifying Power of Activated Charcoal in Water Filtration

Jan 7


Thelma Oliver

Thelma Oliver

  • Share this article on Facebook
  • Share this article on Twitter
  • Share this article on Linkedin

Activated charcoal is a powerhouse in the world of water purification, offering a simple yet highly effective method to cleanse water of various impurities. This article delves into the science behind how activated charcoal filters work, their limitations, and their role in providing clean drinking water. With a surface area of up to 1500 m² per gram, activated charcoal can adsorb a wide range of contaminants, making it a key component in many water filtration systems.

Understanding Activated Charcoal and Its Role in Water Filtration

Charcoal,The Purifying Power of Activated Charcoal in Water Filtration Articles a byproduct of wood's destructive distillation, is a black, porous solid that is both odorless and tasteless. Despite being denser than water, charcoal can float due to its ability to adsorb gases. Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is treated to increase its porosity, significantly enhancing its adsorption capabilities. Just one gram of activated carbon can have a surface area as vast as 1500 m², which is roughly equivalent to the size of three tennis courts.

How Does Activated Charcoal Work?

Adsorption is the key process that enables activated charcoal to purify water. It is not to be confused with absorption. Adsorption involves the accumulation of substances on the surface of a solid or liquid. Activated charcoal is particularly adept at this process. For instance, one cubic centimeter of charcoal can adsorb up to 90 cc of ammonia gas, showcasing its impressive adsorptive power.

When water containing dissolved pollutants passes through an activated charcoal filter, these substances are attracted to the charcoal via van der Waals forces. These are weak molecular forces that cause certain compounds to adhere to the charcoal's surface. However, activated charcoal does not bind all chemicals with the same efficiency. It is less effective with substances such as ammonia, alcohols, strong acids and bases, glycols, metals, and most inorganics, including fluorine, lithium, iron, sodium, lead, arsenic, and boric acid.

The Limitations of Activated Charcoal

While activated charcoal is effective at removing many contaminants, it is not a catch-all solution. For example, essential minerals in water, which our bodies need, are not filtered out, which can be beneficial. In areas with fluoridated water, the fluoride is often left in to promote dental health. However, for the removal of substances that activated charcoal cannot adsorb effectively, additional filtration methods or adsorbers are required.

The Impact of Activated Charcoal on Water Quality

The use of activated charcoal in water filtration systems has a significant impact on water quality. As water and contaminants pass through the filter, the high porosity of the activated charcoal ensures that most substances will come into contact with the carbon. The van der Waals forces then attract and retain the contaminants on the charcoal's surface until the filter is cleaned or replaced. For the contaminants, it's a dead-end road; for the consumer, it's a sip of refreshing and healthy water.

Interesting Stats and Data

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 2 billion people globally use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. Activated charcoal filters can play a crucial role in reducing the risk of diarrheal disease, which is responsible for 1.5 million deaths annually. Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Water and Health found that activated carbon filters can remove up to 95% of certain heavy metals, making them a vital tool in ensuring safe drinking water (WHO, Journal of Water and Health).

In conclusion, activated charcoal filters are a cornerstone of modern water purification technology. Their ability to adsorb a wide array of contaminants, coupled with their limitations, highlights the importance of understanding and utilizing the right filtration methods for ensuring safe and clean drinking water.