Activated carbon, also known as activated charcoal, is a form of carbon commonly utilized to purify liquids as well as gases in a variety of applications. These include municipal drinking water, odor removal, food & beverage processing, and industrial pollution control. Activated carbon is produced from carbonaceous source materials, such as nutshells, coconuts, peat, coal, and wood. Inkwood Research’s analysis suggests that the global activated carbon market is forecasted to progress with a CAGR of 7.20% during the projection period of 2023 to 2032.
Activated Carbon Market – The Adsorption Mechanism & Top 5 Applications
By definition, adsorption is a fundamental process where particles or atoms from a liquid adhere to a solid surface, leading to their expulsion from the liquid. And presently, with the advancements in science and innovation, carbon, in its activated structure, is increasingly being used as an effective substance for the adsorption of impurities.
Aligning with this, here are the 5 main applications where adsorption by activated carbon has a demonstrated reputation –
- Water Treatment – Adsorption helps bind impurities chemically on the charcoal filter’s surface instead of physically absorbing them. Accordingly, activated charcoal is an ideal solution as a water filter since it effectively eliminates toxins from the water without stripping the liquid of important minerals and salts.
- As per Inkwood Research, the water treatment segment is expected to dominate the end-user category over the forecast period, primarily on account of the rise in industrial activities.
- Moreover, leading players, such as Kuraray Co Ltd and Kureha Corporation, are actively engaged in providing activated carbon for water purification as well as general water processing and decolorization applications.
- Food & Beverage – In the food & beverage industry, activated carbons are widely used for the removal of impurities and contaminants such as odor and color from sweeteners, syrups, glycerine, beverages, and organic and amino acids. For example, activated carbon is used for the production of concentrated fruit juice since it is effective in eliminating a highly regulated organic compound, patulin, often found in apples as well as other fruits.
- Pharmaceutical and Medical – The pharmaceutical industry demands an exceptional level of purity across all processing aids. Aligning with this, one of the most widely used applications of activated carbon in the pharmaceutical sector is the treatment of intermediates for the removal of unwanted by-products without the modification of any chemicals. On the other hand, in the medical industry, activated carbon is used for the treatment of drug overdose as well as metal poisoning followed by oral ingestion. Activated carbon, in the form of a capsule or tablet, can also help resolve gastrointestinal problems of flatulence, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Inkwood Research estimates that pharmaceutical and medical is set to be the fastest-growing end-user in the global activated carbon market over the estimated years.
- Major companies, including Boyce Carbon, are focusing on the development of a wide range of activated carbon products used for various industrial applications, such as solvent recovery and pharmaceuticals, among others.
- Automotive – In the automotive industry, activated carbon is predominantly used to control emissions, improve the quality of cabin air, and remove VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Moreover, it can also be utilized for the production of electrodes for supercapacitors and as an effective medium to regulate evaporative loss emissions in gasoline-fueled automobiles.
- Air Purification – Activated carbon air filters combat smoke, chemicals, unpleasant odors, and gaseous pollutants through the process of adsorption in order to remove and capture impurities. These filters are mainly used in conjunction with HEPA filters that trap tiny particles such as dust, mold spores, lint, pollen, and pet dander. However, once the carbon becomes saturated, it loses its effectiveness as an air filter; and as a result, it is important for the air filter to be changed out for a fresh unit.
Leveraging the Multi-Faceted Potential of Activated Carbon | Key R&D Investments
Leading vendors operating in the global activated carbon market have significantly increased their research and development (R&D) expenditure, with a strong focus on technological innovations. For example, Jacobi Carbons launched a unique activated carbon in combination with a liquid additive that can remove elemental and ionic mercury. Likewise, Calgon Carbon is establishing efforts for the development of odor control options using activated carbon. In addition to the advantage of cost benefits, these products also offer a range of potential applications, such as catalyzing reactions, metal reinforcing, point-of-use filters for air and water purification, and solvent recovery.
On the other hand, activated carbon also plays a prominent role in the recovery of metals (mainly through adsorption), with granular activated carbon widely preferred in these applications. In this regard, Africa harbors one of the largest mineral reserves globally and, thus, attracts significant investment prospects from across the world. Consequently, with national governments looking for measures to maximize the advantages acquired from mining ventures, the South African mining industry has received around R220 billion worth of investments for its mining project pipeline as per the Mining Review. These include platinum group metals (PGMs), energy, industrial minerals, as well as non-ferrous metals. As a result, these factors are set to provide the global activated carbon market as a whole with lucrative growth as well as investment opportunities during the estimated years.
What are the three main types of activated carbon accessible in the market?
As per their measure and shape, the three types of activated carbon accessible in the market include granular, expelled (pellets), and powdered. According to Inkwood Research, the powdered activated carbon (PAC) segment, under the product type category, is anticipated to grow with the highest CAGR during the forecast years 2023 to 2032.
What is the role of activated carbon in the chemical industry?
In the chemical industry, activated carbon is extensively used for purification purposes during the production of a diverse range of industrial liquid chemicals. These include biodiesel, mineral acids, glycerine, and others.