By Paul Bergeron
Civilizations have been using carbon to treat water for centuries, and it has become a workhorse that continues to get stronger as more discoveries are made that create new ways for its use.
Carbon is capable of treating thousands of organic contaminants. For example, when the concept of dry cleaning came into being in the mid-19th century, it used benzene, toluene, and xylene. Little did we know the awful things those chemicals did when they were dumped into area waters. They are now effectively treated with carbon.
Other solutions might roll out slowly in 2022 as the world recovers from supply-chain management challenges—among other things brought on by the pandemic.
The Insight Partners reported that the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Germany, Colombia, and Argentina were among the worst-affected countries in terms COVID-19 cases and deaths in 2021, and their chemicals and materials industries continue to suffer serious disruptions such as supply chain breaks, technology event cancellations, and delayed office re-openings as a result of this outbreak.
Various companies are working to play catch-up from delays in product deliveries and slump in future sales of their products from last year.
New Developments on the Way
Advanced carbon block is perhaps the leading technique used for purifying drinking water.
One established filter manufacturer is launching new carbon block technology in the second quarter of 2022 that has been developed, tested, and validated for removal of virus, bacteria, and cysts as well as removing or reducing chlorine taste and odor (CTO) and Chloramine.
The manufacturer believes their patented process could prove to be the Holy Grail for water purification relative to microbiological removal/reduction with carbon block technology for point-of-use. Carbon block is often used at the point of use to treat water instead of at the point of entry.
Laboratory testing has shown removal of bacteria at >6 log reduction; viruses at a >4 log reduction and cysts at >3 log reduction. (Three-log is 99.9; Four-log is 99.99, etc.)
ACF Market Size to Grow Significantly
Graphical Research (GR) a year ago released a study “Activated Carbon Fiber (ACF) Market Trends in North America, Europe” for a forecast period of 2021-2027.
Issued in July 2021, it wrote that the global activated carbon fiber market size is anticipated to register substantial growth rate during that forecast period as ACF materials are quite useful in water treatment applications as they help remove impurities from water used in commercial and residential facilities.
The chemical and solvent industry has seen increased use of ACF in recent years across many regions, according to GR. “Governments are placing stringent rules and regulations on the chemical sector to reduce its emission rates. Major technological advancements are taking place in the industry to make these fibers well-equipped for different applications in the solvent market.” Among its identified trends are that water treatment needs will grow in North America.
“[North America’s] activated carbon fiber market size is expected to become worth nearly $530 million during the forecast period,” GR wrote. “One reason for this is the rising need to have water treatment facilities and the strict rules and regulations made with regards to access to clean water and air. The production of ACF filters in various water purifiers extract impurities and provide drinkable water has increased.”
As stated earlier, many companies are involved in formulating strategies to develop advanced products that will make effective use of ACF. “Another factor that will increase the demand for ACF is the growing awareness among industries in North America about the potential harmful effects of using petroleum-based materials on the environment,” GR wrote.
Strict rules and regulations placed by the government to use renewable materials to produce ACF for combating global warming has prompted manufacturers to switch to eco-friendly resources like biomass. “Biomass is becoming quite a popular raw material to produce ACF because of beneficial features like eco-friendly resource, availability at low cost and high renewability,” GR wrote.
Bio-based adsorbents (also known as biosorbents) can be produced from low-cost feedstock such as agricultural biomass waste or byproducts, which have adsorption capabilities that are comparable to other chemical adsorbents, and these materials can be disposed safely.
Activated Carbon Treatment Use
Activated carbon treatment is the most studied treatment for PFAS removal, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Activated carbon is commonly used to adsorb natural organic compounds, taste and odor compounds, and synthetic organic chemicals in drinking water treatment systems. Adsorption is both the physical and chemical process of accumulating a substance, such as PFAS, at the interface between liquid and solids phases. Activated carbon is an effective adsorbent because it is a highly porous material and provides a large surface area to which contaminants may adsorb.
Activated carbon is made from organic materials with high carbon contents such as wood, lignite, and coal; and is often used in granular form called granular activated carbon (GAC).
GAC has been shown to effectively remove PFAS from drinking water when it is used in a flow through filter mode after particulates have already been removed.
EPA researcher Thomas Speth in comments posted on EPA’s website, said GAC can be 100 percent effective for a period of time, depending on the type of carbon used, the depth of the bed of carbon, flow rate of the water, the specific PFAS you need to remove, temperature, and the degree and type of organic matter as well as other contaminants, or constituents, in the water.
For example, GAC works well on longer-chain PFAS like PFOA and PFOS, but shorter chain PFAS like Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS) and Perfluorobutyrate (PFBA) do not adsorb as well.
Another type of activated carbon treatment is powdered activated carbon (PAC) which is the same material as GAC, but it is smaller in size. Because of the small particle size, PAC cannot be used in a flow through bed, but can be added directly to the water and then removed with the other natural particulates in the clarification stage (conventional water treatment, low-pressure membranes, microfiltration or ultrafiltration).
Used in this way, PAC is not as efficient or economical as GAC at removing PFAS.
Speth says, “Even at very high PAC doses with the very best carbon, it is unlikely to remove a high percentage PFAS; however, it can be used for modest percent removals. If used, however, there is an additional problem with what to do with the sludge that contains adsorbed PFAS.”
Certain technologies have been found to remove PFAS from drinking water, especially Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which are the most studied of these chemicals. Those technologies include activated carbon adsorption, ion exchange resins, and high-pressure membranes.
These technologies can be used in drinking water treatment facilities, in water systems in hospitals or individual buildings, or even in homes at the point-of-entry or point-of-use.
Growing Demand for Phenolic Resin-Based ACF
Different ACFs use a wide variety of materials like cellulose, polyacrylonitrile (PAN), phenolic resin and pitch. Out of these resources, phenolic resin based ACF will rise in demand among end users in North America market. This sector is even expected to grow at 6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2027.
The reason why this type of ACF is preferred for different applications is because of its properties like high thermal insulation, faster processing, and greater resistance to corrosion. It has low toxicity rate and possesses high thermal stability unlike pitch resin based ACFs.
Phenolic based ACF is cost-effective and readily available, making it a popular choice among end users.
Water Adsorbents Market Outlook
The Insight Partners said that the growth in the drinking water adsorbents market can be linked to rapid urbanization coupled with economic growth and rising demand for bio-adsorbents.
According to its new research study “Drinking Water Adsorbents Market to 2027 – Global Analysis and Forecast – by Product and Geography,” the drinking water adsorbents market size is projected to reach $698.17 million by 2027 from $529.21 million in 2020; it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4% from 2020 to 2027.
Adsorbents are extensively used to remove impurities from drinking water, thereby enhancing the overall water quality. Stringent regulations pertaining to the quality of water, backed by various initiatives by governments to encourage investments in water treatment industries, are triggering the demand for drinking water adsorbents.
Based on product, the drinking water adsorbents market is segmented into zeolite, clay, activated alumina, activated carbon, manganese oxide, cellulose, and others, according to the Insight Partners. In 2019, the activated carbon segment dominated the market by accounting for 52.8% of the total market.
This method is effective for eliminating organics (such as unwanted taste and odors, micropollutants), chlorine, fluorine, or radon from drinking water or wastewater. Due to the inclusion of carbon and hydrogen in their composition, activated carbon is the most effective commodity for the removal of organic pollutants.
Increased Use Forecasted for Asia-Pacific
GR also suggested that efforts in the ACF field will increase in Asia-Pacific with that market size expected to exceed $381.4 million in valuation by 2027.
GR said that there are a number of research projects being carried out in the field of ACF to understand the potential uses of this product in different commercial areas.
Research organizations are involved in identifying or creating new processes and precursor materials that will play a vital role in the production of ACF. Many countries in the APAC region are witnessing rapid industrialization which will see the presence of reputed industries growing, thereby fueling the demand for ACF.
Europe Using ACF for Wastewater Treatment
Additionally, GR said that wastewater treatment will drive the use of ACF in Europe.
“The rising need to manage wastewater efficiently will propel the demand for using activated carbon fibers in wastewater treatment facilities,” it wrote. “In fact, Europe market share from the segment is expected to register 6.7% CAGR through 2027.”
Many firms are creating innovative technologies to make the process of managing wastewater as advanced and eco-friendly as possible. The European Union is introducing stringent rules and regulations to safeguard public health and urge industries to reduce their emission rates and contribute significantly towards reversing the harmful effects of pollution and climate change.
“A major factor that will help the industry grow at a faster rate is that these fibers are capable of extracting impurities from water systems and they play an important role in reducing bacterial growth to a great extent,” according to GR. “They can even be used in residential water systems to provide potable water.”
Drinking Water Adsorbents Market: A Competitive Landscape
In 2019, North America held the largest share of the global drinking water adsorbents market, according to the Insight Partners. The market growth in the region is ascribed to stringent government regulations pertaining to water quality, focus on and better standards of living, in addition to rapid urbanization.
Moreover, significant investments in research and development activities with growing focus on organic adsorbents or bio-adsorbents and low-cost adsorbents are further promoting the drinking water adsorbents market growth in North America.
Factors such as human activity, unplanned urbanization, rapid industrialization, and unskilled use of natural water supplies have led to the deterioration of water quality over time.
The implementation of stringent environmental policies has led to the advent of robust, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable processes or materials, including bio-based or organic adsorbents such as coconut shells, coal, and wood.
About the author
Paul Bergeron has been a multi-industry reporter for 30 years, covering energy and sustainability, property management, global HR trends, small business, technology and horse racing. He currently is Executive Editor for his self-operated content marketing company, Thought Leadership Today in Herndon, VA.