Granular Activated Carbon: Benefits, Selection, and Management (2)

Table of Contents

Pros and Cons of GAC: A Comprehensive Analysis

GAC, or Granular Activated Carbon, stands as a popular filtration medium for eliminating impurities from water and air. Produced by heating carbon-rich substances like coal, wood, or coconut shells to extreme temperatures, GAC boasts a highly porous structure and a vast surface area, allowing it to adsorb an array of organic and inorganic compounds. Here’s a detailed look at the benefits and drawbacks of employing GAC:


  1. Impressive adsorption capacity: GAC’s extensive surface area and porous makeup empower it to adsorb numerous contaminants, establishing it as an efficacious filtration substance.

  2. Wide-ranging filtration: GAC excels at eliminating diverse contaminants, encompassing organic compounds, chlorine, chloramines, taste and odor-inducing substances, and certain heavy metals.

  3. Regenerability: GAC can undergo reactivation, a process involving high-temperature heating to eradicate adsorbed contaminants. Consequently, the material can be reused, curbing waste and expenses.

  4. Cost-efficiency: GAC is generally more economical than alternative filtration technologies like reverse osmosis or ion exchange, rendering it a more accessible option for numerous applications.

  5. User-friendly: Integrating GAC into various filtration systems, such as point-of-entry (POE) or point-of-use (POU) water treatment units, is a breeze, making it an adaptable choice.


  1. Restricted efficacy for specific contaminants: GAC falls short at eliminating all types of impurities. For instance, it struggles to remove dissolved minerals, like salts, and certain heavy metals, including lead and arsenic.

  2. Breakthrough and channeling risks: Over time, GAC can become saturated with contaminants, resulting in “breakthrough,” wherein contaminants are no longer effectively removed. Moreover, water can create channels through the GAC bed, diminishing contact time and filtration efficiency.

  3. Regeneration limitations: While GAC can be regenerated, the reactivation process demands high temperatures and may not always be viable, particularly for smaller-scale or residential applications.

  4. Microbial growth susceptibility: GAC’s porous structure can foster a favorable environment for microorganism growth, potentially leading to the release of bacteria or other pathogens into the filtered water.

  5. Maintenance: To ensure GAC filters’ continued efficacy, regular monitoring and replacement are necessary, which may augment maintenance requirements and costs.

In summary, GAC offers numerous advantages as a filtration material, such as its high adsorption capacity, wide-ranging filtration capabilities, and cost-efficiency. Nevertheless, it also presents some disadvantages, including limited efficacy for certain contaminants, the potential for breakthrough and channeling, and maintenance requirements.

Key Factors in Selecting Granular Activated Carbon

Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) is prevalent in water treatment, air purification, and assorted industrial processes due to its exceptional adsorption capacity for organic and inorganic pollutants. When opting for GAC for a specific application, it is crucial to consider the following factors:

Contaminant type

Identify the water or air’s target contaminants, as varying GAC types exhibit different effectiveness levels for specific pollutants. Some GACs are better suited for removing organic compounds, while others excel at eliminating inorganic impurities or heavy metals.

Particle size

GAC is available in diverse particle sizes, generally ranging from 0.2 to 5 mm. Smaller particles offer a more extensive surface area for adsorption but may result in higher pressure drops and slower flow rates. Conversely, larger particles enable faster flow rates but may possess lower adsorption capacities.

Iodine number

This parameter indicates the GAC’s pore size distribution and overall adsorption capacity. A higher iodine number typically signifies a superior adsorption capacity, particularly for smaller organic molecules.


Apparent density

The apparent density of GAC reflects its pore structure and can influence the filter’s hydraulic performance. Lower apparent densities often indicate larger pores, which can be beneficial for high flow rate applications.

Hardness and abrasion resistance

GAC should be resistant to abrasion and attrition during backwashing, transportation, and handling to maintain its effectiveness and minimize the release of fines.

Activation method

GAC can be produced through physical or chemical activation processes, which influence its properties such as pore size distribution, surface area, and adsorption capacity. Choose the GAC type that best suits your application’s requirements.

pH compatibility

The GAC’s pH compatibility is crucial, as the efficiency of the adsorption process can be impacted by changes in pH. Ensure that the selected GAC is suitable for the pH range of the water or air to be treated.

Regeneration and disposal

Consider the ease of regeneration and the disposal methods for spent GAC. Some GAC types can be regenerated using thermal, chemical, or biological methods, while others must be replaced and properly disposed of after reaching their adsorption capacity.


GAC prices can vary based on factors like the activation process, raw material used, and market demand. Compare the costs and benefits of various GAC types and choose the one that fits your budget while meeting your performance requirements.

Regulatory compliance

Ensure that the selected GAC meets the necessary regulatory standards, such as NSF/ANSI 61 for drinking water treatment or specific industry requirements, to guarantee safety and compliance.

Regenerating and Disposing of Granular Activated Carbon: A Guide

Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) is a widely used adsorbent material for filtering and purifying water, air, and various industrial processes. As time passes, GAC can become saturated with contaminants and lose its adsorption capacity. Regeneration and disposal are two options for managing spent GAC. Here are the general steps for each process:


  1. Removal: Begin by removing the spent GAC from the system. Adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines and local regulations for handling and transportation.

  2. Drying: Spread the spent GAC out on a clean, flat surface to air dry. This can take several hours to a few days, depending on the humidity and temperature. The drying process removes moisture, making the GAC more amenable to regeneration.

  3. Thermal regeneration: In this process, the spent GAC is heated to a high temperature (between 800 and 1000°C) in a controlled environment, like a rotary kiln or furnace. The high temperature burns off the adsorbed contaminants and restores the GAC’s adsorption capacity. Note that not all contaminants can be removed through thermal regeneration, and some may even produce harmful byproducts.

  4. Cooling and screening: After regeneration, the GAC must be cooled and screened to remove any ash or debris that may have formed during the process.

  5. Reactivation: In some cases, the GAC may need to be treated with chemicals, such as steam or an acid wash, to further restore its adsorption capacity.

  6. Testing and reuse: Once the regeneration process is complete, test the regenerated GAC to ensure it meets the required performance standards. If it does, the GAC can be reused in the original application or repurposed for another use.


  1. Removal: Remove the spent GAC from the system, following the manufacturer’s guidelines and local regulations for handling and transportation.

  2. Determine the best disposal option: Depending on the contaminants adsorbed, GAC may be classified as hazardous or nonhazardous waste. Consult local environmental authorities and regulations to determine the appropriate disposal method.

  3. Hazardous waste disposal: If the GAC is classified as hazardous waste, it must be disposed of at a licensed hazardous waste facility. These facilities are equipped to handle, treat, and dispose of hazardous materials safely and in compliance with environmental regulations.

  4. Non-hazardous waste disposal: If the GAC is non-hazardous, it can be disposed of in a sanitary landfill or incinerated. It is crucial to comply with local waste disposal regulations.

  5. Recordkeeping: Maintain proper records of GAC disposal, including the date, the amount of GAC disposed of, and the disposal method. This information is essential for regulatory compliance and tracking purposes.

In conclusion, proper regeneration or disposal of GAC is crucial for maintaining the efficiency of your filtration system and ensuring environmental safety. Always adhere to local regulations and guidelines to guarantee compliance and minimize potential risks.