Thermal Activation Processes

Thermal activation occurs in two stages: thermal decomposition or carbonization of the precursor and controlled gasification or activation of the crude char. During carbonization, elements such as hydrogen and oxygen are eliminated from the precursor to produce a carbon skeleton possessing a latent pore structure. During gasification, the char is exposed to an oxidizing atmosphere that greatly increases the pore volume and surface area of the product through elimination of volatile pyrolysis products and from carbon burn-off. Carbonization and activation of the char are generally carried out in direct-fired rotary kilns or multiple-hearth furnaces, but fluidized-bed reactors have also been used (22). Materials of construction, notably steel and refractories, are designed to withstand the high-temperature conditions (i.e., >1,000 °C) inherent in activation processes. The thermal activation process is illustrated in Figure 1 for the production of activated carbon from bituminous coal (23,24).

Bituminous coal is pulverized and passed to a briquette press. Binders may be added at this stage before compression of the coal into briquettes. The briquetted coal is then crushed and passed through a screen, from which the on-size material passes to an oxidizing kiln. Here, the coking properties of the coal particles are destroyed by oxidation at moderate temperatures in air. The oxidized coal is then devolatilized in a second rotary kiln at higher temperatures under steam. To comply with environmental pollution regulations, the kiln off-gases containing dust and volatile matter pass through an incinerator before discharge to the atmosphere.

The devolatilized coal particles are transported to a direct-fired multihearth furnace where they are activated by holding the temperature of the furnace at about 1,000 °C. Product quality is maintained by controlling coal feed rate and bed temperature. As before, dust particles in the furnace off-gas are combusted in an afterburner before discharge of the gas to the atmosphere. Finally, the granular product is screened to provide the desired particle size. A

Table 1. Properties of Selected U.S. Activated Carbon Products

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