Factors that affect the performance of Activated Carbons

Molecular weight:
As the molecular weight increases, the activated carbon adsorbs more effectively because the molecules are lea soluble in water. However, the pore structure of the carbon must be large enough to allow the molecules to migrate within. A mixture of high and low molecular weight molecules should be designed for the removal of the more difficult species.

Most organics are less soluble and more readily adsorbed at a lower pH. As the pH increases, removal decreases. A rule of thumb is to increase the size of the carbon bed by twenty percent for every pH unit above neutral (7.0).

Contaminant concentration:  The higher the contaminant concentration, the greater the removal capacity of activated carbon. The contaminant molecule is more likely to diffuse into a pore and become adsorbed. As concentrations increase, however, so do effluent leakages. The upper limit for contaminants is a few hundred parts per million. Higher contaminant concentration may require more contact time with the activated carbon. Also, the removal of organics is enhanced by the presence of hardness in the water, so whenever possible, place activated carbon units upstream of the ion removal units. This is usually the case anyway since activated carbon is often used upstream of ion exchange or membranes to remove chlorine.

Particle size:
Activated carbon is commonly available in 8 by 30 mesh (largest), 12 by 40 mesh (most common), and 20 by 50 mesh (finest). The finer mesh gives the best contact and better removal, but at the expense of higher pressure drop. A rule of thumb here is that the 8 by 30 mesh gives two to three times better removal than the 12 by 40, and 10 to 20 times better kinetic removal than the 8 by 30 mesh.

Flow rate:
Generally, the lower the flow rate, the more time the contaminant will have to diffuse into a pore and be adsorbed. Adsorption by activated carbon is almost always improved by a longer contact time. Again, in general terms, a carbon bed of 20 by 50 mesh can be run at twice the flow rate of a bed of 12 by 40 mesh, and a carbon bed of 12 by 40 mesh can be run at twice the flow rate of a bed of 8 by 30 mesh.  Whenever considering higher flow rates with finer mesh carbons, watch for an increased pressure drop!

Higher water temperatures decrease the solution viscosity and can increase die diffusion rate, thereby increasing adsorption. Higher temperatures can also disrupt the adsorptive bond and slightly decrease adsorption. It depends on the organic compound being removed, but generally, lower temperatures seem to favor adsorption.