Did you ever wonder why we didn’t die out from contaminated water? If you think about it, some common ancestor of ours found a way to filter their drinking water. This is, of course, after some of their family and friends died. Take a look at charcoal and how it filtered water in the olden days. Charcoal filters have been around for quite a while now!
Based on studies, carbon is an extremely porous material that attracts and holds a wide range of harmful contaminants.
Charcoal is also carbon. Charcoal becomes activated when millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms open up due to its mixture with oxygen.
Most people use special fabrication techniques to mix oxygen with charcoal and produce an even more permeable byproduct, making it more attractive to impurities and contaminated chemicals. These active or activated charcoals are very often used to adsorb odorous and colored substances from gases or liquids.
An example of gas adsorption is when charcoal is placed inside a refrigerator to remove the bad odor inside it. This is actually the very reason why some mothers put charcoal in their refrigerators at home.
In the case of water pollutant adsorption, as it passes over the positively charged carbon surface, the negative ions of the toxins are drawn to the surface of its particles.
As it is written in an article in buyactivatedcharcoal.com, the Egyptians and Sumerians were the very first people to produce and use charcoal as a fuel to reduce some elements in the process of manufacturing bronze.
The two civilizations also discovered that it can be used as a preservative, and thus started capitalizing on its anti-bacterial properties. They used charcoal to prevent wood from rotting especially when it is buried in the wet soils of Nile River.
As centuries passed, more and more useful applications of charcoal were discovered and exercised.
It was used to seal or block holes in ships; it was also utilized to scorch wooden barrels to preserve the water and other items stored in them.
These uses of charcoal are extensively used until today, especially in the case of water filtration, where activated charcoal is the main component.
In reality, there are only two methods by which activated carbon may be able to remove pollutants from water; one is through adsorption and the other is through catalytic reduction.
‘Adsorption’ refers to the attraction of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid into a surface. This is different from absorption because particles undergoing absorption are taken up by the volume and not by the surface (as in the case of adsorption).
On the other hand, catalytic reduction is a process wherein the negatively-charged ions of the contaminants are attracted to the positively-charged activated carbon.
Organic compounds are filtered by adsorption and residual disinfectants such as chlorine and chloramines are removed by catalytic reduction.
Activated carbon filters remove or may reduce the amount of hazardous organic chemicals and hundreds of man-made substances found in tap and ground water.
Although activated and catalytic carbon filters are usually effective at removing chloramine, hydrogen sulfide and heavy metals, charcoal filters are not always successful in eliminating dissolved inorganic impurities or metals such as minerals, salts, copper and certain radio nuclides. To get rid of these contaminants, it is preferable to use either a reverse osmosis water filter system or a distiller.
As of now, there are just two (2) principal forms of carbon filters utilized in the charcoal filter industry – powdered block charcoal filters and granular activated charcoal filters.
Powdered Activated Carbon Filters (PAC) have a relatively smaller particle size compared to Granular Activated Carbon Filters (GAC) and consequently, present a larger surface to volume ratio.
Usually, PAC charcoal filters are more effective at removing a larger number of impurities than GAC charcoal filters.
Most carbon filters use secondary media or elements, like silver, to avoid bacteria from multiplying within the charcoal filter. Otherwise, the activated carbon in the carbon filter itself may be drenched with silver to produce this bacteriostatic property.
According to an article in LinkedIn written by author and consultant Nikhilesh Mukherjee, powdered carbon filters (carbon block) allow carbon particles to maintain their initial position relative to each other. This prohibits channeling of water which is very common with GAC charcoal filters.
There are also two important things to be considered in determining the performance of a powdered carbon block in a charcoal filter system. These are:
These considerations are decided by the charcoal filter manufacturer based on the quality and quantity of water the carbon filter can and is expected to handle and are not released.
Reducing particle sizes can very much enhance the capability of the charcoal filter to remove contaminants with similarly small particle sizes, as stated in Mukherjee’s blog. At the same time, doing this also adds resistance for water to flow through the carbon block in the charcoal filter and may cause the flow rate to drop reasonably.
Low flow rate is the most common consumer issue with powdered carbon block charcoal filters, especially for those who use gravity charcoal filters.
Generally, PAC powdered block carbon filters are capable of providing many advantages which GAC charcoal filters, on the other hand, cannot offer.
However, both GAC charcoal filters and PAC carbon filters have a limited ability to remove contaminants from drinking water. Even with a powdered block charcoal filter’s properties, PAC carbon filters cannot remove bacteria and virus from this kind of water, unless it is specifically designed to do so.
Hence, before using a carbon filter as a standalone filter, one is required to know the contaminants present in his supply water. Can your charcoal filter do the job? That will really depend on how contaminated your water supply is!
GAC (granulated active carbon) charcoal filters are fixed and loose bed carbon filters.
It contains an outer housing which is commonly shaped like a cylinder and carries carbon. The ratio for the carbon filter is decided based on the velocity of water that passes through it, in order to minimize pressure drop, specifically in gravity based application.
Fluidization, nevertheless, has never been an issue with gravity charcoal filters. It is guaranteed that water velocity never reaches a point of transition between fixed bed regime and a bubbling regime in specialized high quantity charcoal filters.
Although activated carbon is a very useful adsorbent, loose carbon particles present in GAC carbon filters might limit the full benefits that a carbon-based charcoal filter can offer.
A common problematic concern with GAC carbon filters is that, as water travels through the charcoal filter, it finds the path in the loose carbon bed where there is least resistance. Hence, during channeling process, water bypasses carbon in the charcoal filter making the adsorption capacity of carbon underutilized.
Bacterial growth in GAC carbon filters is also a very often phenomenon. When micro-organisms are present in contaminated water and it moves through the loose GAC bed in the charcoal filter, it creates stationary pockets of contaminated water within carbon bed.
The trapped bacteria multiply immediately within the pores of GAC. These bacteria eventually find their way into the clean filtered water.
There are times when consumers still find carbon particles in filtered water after using their charcoal filters. This is due to generation of fines produced by the wearing out of carbon particles by friction on the loose bed in the carbon filter.
GAC carbon filters also can’t be regenerated by washing and can’t clean turbid water.
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According to a description of whole house water filter systems in dupont.com, it increases clarity of an entire home’s water by removing residue deposits, which, at the same time, can also extend the lives of appliances that process water.
Primarily, for a household which uses water frequently, carbon water filters should be the first choice. This is basically because it is most famous for removing traces of chlorine effectively, which if not done would otherwise result in a water with a very unpleasant taste.
As an article in doityourself.com suggests, this kind of carbon filtering system does not require electricity to work because it depends only on the pipes’ pressure. Thus, it is classified as a passive sort of filter. Naturally, this is good, since it is a great economic advantage to run a water filtering system without having to use electricity involving considerable expenses.
Another notable trait of carbon filters is that, while they remove the dangerous contents present in water, they do not get rid of the healthy nutrients in the process. Nutrients in the water are preserved and left beneficial.
If the charcoal filter is stacked and remained unused for a long period of time (a month at least), bacteria will surely multiply inside it. The developed bacteria may or may not be harmful. However, it is still an undesirable situation.
If this happens, one must flush the carbon filter for half a minute a day until assured that no more bacteria is present within it.
As mentioned earlier, certain pollutants may not always be removed when using a carbon filter. Some of these pollutants are fluorides, nitrates, toxic minerals and a range of micro-organisms.
It is evident that the advantages of using a carbon filter are far greater than its disadvantages. Consequently, installing a carbon filtering system like this is highly recommended if one’s priority is to protect his family from toxic substances, impurities and contaminants residing in the water, while keeping expenses to a minimum. Besides, the prices of whole house carbon filters only run from $500-$1500. Of course this will vary between several different carbon filter manufacturers.
If you are wondering how to create a do-it-yourself carbon-based filter, here is an excellent step-by-step guide from practicalprimitive.com.
If our ancestors could do it, then you can do it yourself. This may be a handy thing to know when the water pump breaks down, during camping trips or when there’s an emergency.
Why don’t you make this your home project this coming weekend? Tell us how it went and let’s see if you’re as good as the ancient Egyptians!
Charcoal filters can even be used to create MOONSHINE! Check out the video below: