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How Can I Reactivate Activated Charcoal?

Updated April 17, 2017

Activated charcoal has a variety of applications that centre on its ability to adsorb organic matter from a liquid stream, like a water line, or from a gas, in places like a smoke stack. A charcoal particle traps the organics on its surface and keeps them from passing further along the flowing path. Once all the available adsorption sites on the charcoal fill, the activated charcoal ceases to operate and requires replacement. To regenerate the spent charcoal requires it to undergo pyrolysis, which is a thermal decomposition of the organic matter adsorbed onto the charcoal. This procedure is not achievable in a typical home setting because it requires the charcoal to heat at between 900 and 1500 degrees Celsius in a low-oxygen environment. Many regenerating companies use low- or no-oxygen furnaces with steam as the oxidiser to remove the adsorbed organics.

Load the furnace with the spent activated charcoal and spread it out in a thin layer to maximise exposed surface area. Just as high surface area increases the efficiency of adsorption of organic pollutants, maximising the surface area during regeneration will speed the thermal degradation of the pollutants.

Heat the furnace to between 900 and 1500 degrees Celsius for thermal degradation of the organics adsorbed to the charcoal. Introducing steam to the furnace during the heating cycle provides an oxidant that is not oxygen, which could lead to combustion.

Cool the activated charcoal after treatment in the furnace and package for shipment back to the owner.

Things You'll Need

  • Oxygen-free furnace
  • Steam source
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About the Author

Sean Lancaster has been a freelance writer since 2007. He has written for Writers Research Group, Alexis Writing and the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce. Lancaster holds a Doctor of Philosophy in chemistry from the University of Washington.