A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF CHEMICAL AND MICROWAVE SYNTHESIZED ACTIVATED CARBON FROM CORN COB. A RESEARCH PROJECT TOPICS ON CHEMICAL ENGINEERING
1.1 BACKGROUND OF STUDY
Activated carbon, also widely known as activated charcoal or activated coal is a form of carbon which has been processed to make it extremely porous and thus to have a very large surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions (Mattson et al., 1971). The word active is sometimes used in place of activated. It is characterized by high degree of micro porosity. A gram of activated carbon can have a surface area in excess of 500 m2. Sufficient activation for useful applications may come solely from the high surface area, though further chemical treatment generally enhances the adsorbing properties of the material. Activated carbon is most commonly derived from charcoal.
Waste biomass is getting increasing attention all over the world for activated carbon development as it is renewable, widely available, cheap and environmentally friendly resource. The common method of development is thermochemical (Kumar et al., 2005). The main concern is the removal of chemical component by adsorption from the liquid or gas phase (Bansal et al., 1988). Today, activated carbon has been produced from various biomass such as corncob, rice husk, cherry stones, coconut shells, palm shells, to mention but a few.
Preparation of activated carbon with ultra-high specific surface area from biomass such as lignin, corncob, cornstalk, dates, etc., has attracted much attention. Among these carbon sources, corncob is a good precursor for preparing carbon with ultra-high specific surface area (Li, 2007). The carbons prepared from corncob have been used in wastewater treatment such as removal of organic pollutants (Sun et al., 2006).
However, a comprehensive study of activating corncob with different activation strategies to prepare carbon with ultra-high specific surface area and pore volumes, and their subsequent performance in water purification as the impurity adsorption has not to our knowledge been reported. Therefore, in this study we report the synthesis of ultra-high surface area carbon materials using two preparation strategies namely, chemical activation procedure using a chemical activator such as ammonium sulphate ((NH4)2SO4) and microwave-synthesized activation procedure. We also report the adsorption capacity of those carbons for water purification.
To prepare activated carbon, conventional heating method is usually adopted, in which the heat is produced by electrical furnace. However, in some cases, the thermal process may take several hours, even up to a week to reach the desired level of activation (Yuen et al., 2009). Another problem related to the furnace is that the surface heating does not ensure a uniform temperature for different shapes
and sizes of samples. This generates a thermal gradient from the hot surface to the kernel of the sample particle, blocks the effective diffusions of gaseous products to its surroundings and finally results in activated carbon quality decrease (Peng et al., 2008). Furthermore, there is a considerable risk of overheating or even thermal runaway (exothermic process) of portion of sample, leading to the complete combustion of the carbon (Williams et al., 2008).