Interesting Facts About Activated Charcoal - Properties & Uses
Activated charcoal is a tasteless, odorless substance made up of carbon.
Activated charcoal is carbon treated with oxygen in order to open out millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms.
The pores in the activated charcoal help to trap impurities in liquids and gases.
How does activated charcoal remove impurities?
Activated charcoal removes impurities through a process called adsorption.
Adsorption is a process in which molecules of gas, liquid or solid are attached to the surface of a substance and trapped within the pores present on the surface.
When the surface area of activated carbon is large more impurities will be trapped and eliminated. Special techniques are used to produce activated charcoal with a surface area of 300–3000 sq meters per gram approximately.
What is the difference between absorption and adsorption?
Absorption is a process by which a substance dissolves and merges into a substance, for example -
- water absorbs sugar
- digested material in the intestine is absorbed by the blood stream
- bread absorbs butter
- skin absorbs the rays of the sun
Adsorption is a process by which a substance is attracted to the surface and attaches itself to the surface of the solid, for example -
- impurities in water are adsorbed by the activated charcoal present in the water filter
- paint is adsorbed by wood, metal or plastic and dries on the surface
- water molecules are adsorbed by glass on windows making them fog during warm months and turn frosty when it is cold
Use of Activated Charcoal in Gas Masks
Activated charcoal is used in the manufacture of gas masks. The gas masks have inbuilt filtration systems that are filled with activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal has the ability to filter out chlorine. In World War I, gas masks were used by soldiers to protect themselves against chlorine gas attacks.
During a chlorine gas attack, the activated charcoal in the gas mask filters out the chlorine, thereby preventing the eyes from tearing up and helps the soldiers to breathe easily.
Use in Water Filters
Filter cartridges packed with activated carbon are used to purify drinking water. The filter cartridge has to be replaced when it can no longer absorb impurities.
Filter cartridges are sold along with expiry dates. A filter cartridge has to be changed when it expires.
Impurities that can be removed by activated charcoal from water are -
- Chlorinated solvents
- Non-chlorinated solvents
All of the above mentioned impurities can cause damage to the body.
1. Activated charcoal helps in the adsorption of drugs and toxins. It reduces the adsorption of poisonous substances by the body.
Giving activated charcoal orally to a person who has swallowed a poisonous substance will help to reduce the adsorption of the poisonous substance and increase the chances of the person of surviving when medical aid is administered.
Call for medical assistance, activated charcoal alone cannot save a person's life.
2. A poultice of active charcoal mixed with water and corn-starch helps to cure bee stings, spider bites, snake bites and other poisonous insects by drawing out the poison from the body.
3. Activated charcoal helps to cure skin conditions such as acne by drawing out any dirt or excess oil from the skin. To apply activated charcoal on your skin mix one capsule of activated charcoal with one teaspoon of aloe vera gel, rose water and three drops of tea tree oil. Many cosmetic products have activated charcoal as one of their ingredients.
4. Toothpaste mixed with activated charcoal can whiten your teeth with daily use.
5. Activated charcoal is used in face masks and body masks because of it's abilities to draw out impurities from the skin.
Medicinal activated charcoal is available in the form of pills or capsules.
Other Uses of Activated Charcoal
- In the automotive industry activated charcoal is used to filter out contaminants. Canisters of activated charcoal are used to reduce the hyrdrocarbon emissions from vehicles that run on gasoline. Cars with air purification systems use activated charcoal to filter out contaminants inside the cabin.
- Activated carbon is used in the production of beverages to remove bad tastes, odors and helps to increase the shelf life of beverages.
- In the food industry activated charcoal is used to purify food products. It is used to purify liquid syrups, fruit juices, edible oils etc.
Activated charcoal is nothing but carbon that is highly porous with a large surface area. The large surface area and the highly porous nature of activated charcoal makes it an important purifying agent in many areas of application.
Activated Charcoal Summarized
Activated charcoal is nothing but activated carbon. Carbon when treated with oxygen transforms into activated charcoal with increased surface area.
Activated charcoal has many pores that help to trap impurities from liquids and gases through adsorption and has many industrial and medicinal uses.
© 2014 Nithya Venkat