Activated Carbon Adsorption

Activated carbon adsorption is a well-established process for adsorption of organics in wastewater, water, and air streams. Granular activated carbon (GAC) packed in a filter bed or of powdered activated carbon (PAC) added to clarifiers or aeration basins is used for wastewater treatment. In the pesticide industry, GAC is much more widely used than PAC. Figure 10 shows the process flow diagram of a GAC system with two columns in series, which is common in the pesticide industry [11].

Activated carbon studies on widely used herbicides and pesticides have shown that it is successful in reducing the concentration of these toxic compounds to very low levels in wastewater [16]. Some examples of these include BHC, DDT, 2,4-D, toxaphene, dieldrin, aldrin, chlordane, malathion, and parathion. Adsorption is affected by many factors, including

Flow Diagram Adsorption
Figure 10 Carbon adsorption flow diagram. The carbon columns are operated in series; backwash water is provided by a pump (from Ref. 11).

molecular size of the adsorbate, solubility of the adsorbate, and pore structure of the carbon. A summary of the characteristics of activated carbon treatment that apply to the pesticide industry follows [11]:

1. Increasing molecular weight is conducive to better adsorption.

2. The degree of adsorption increases as adsorbate solubility decreases.

3. Aromatic compounds tend to be more readily absorbed than aliphatics.

4. Adsorption is pH-dependent; dissolved organics are generally adsorbed more readily at a pH that imparts the least polarity to the molecule.

According to the USEPA surveys, at least 17 pesticide plants in the United States use GAC treatment [7]. Flow rates vary from a low of 0.0004 MGD to a high of 1.26 MGD (combined pesticide flow). Empty bed contact times of the GAC systems vary from a low of 18 minutes to a high of 1000 minutes. The majority of these plants use long contact times and high carbon usage rate systems that are applied as a pretreatment for removing organics from concentrated waste streams. Three plants operate tertiary GAC systems that use shorter contact times and have lower carbon usage rates. Most of the full-scale operating data from the GAC plants indicate a 99% removal of pesticides from the waste streams. The common surface loading rate for primary treatment is 0.5 gallon per minute per square foot (gpm/ft2) and for tertiary treatment, 4 gpm/ft2.

Activated carbon adsorption is mainly a waste concentration method. The exhausted carbon must be regenerated or disposed of as hazardous waste. For GAC consumptions larger than 2000 lb/day, onsite regeneration may be economically justified [7]. Thermal regeneration is the most common method for GAC reactivation, although other methods such as washing the exhausted GAC with acid, alkaline, solvent, or steam are sometimes practised for specific applications [17].

Figure 11 shows a typical flow diagram for a thermal regeneration system [11]. Thermal regeneration is conventionally carried out in a multiple hearth furnace or a rotary kiln at




Figure 11 Carbon regeneration flow diagram. Exhausted carbon is sluiced from adsorbers, dewatered, and regenerated in a thermal furnace (multiple hearth, rotary kiln, infrared, or fluidized bed); the regenerated carbon is quenched and washed before returning to the adsorbers; new carbon is washed and added to make up for the loss during regeneration (from Ref. 11).

temperatures from 870 to 980°C. The infrared furnace is a newer type and was installed in a pesticide plant for a GAC system treating mainly aqueous discharge from vacuum filtration of the mother liquor [7]. Infrared furnace manufacturers have claimed ease of operation with quick startup and shutdown capabilities [18]. Another newer type of reactivation process is the fluidized bed process where the GAC progresses downward through the reactivator counterflow to rising hot gases, which carry off volatiles as they dry the spent GAC and pyrolyze the adsorbate. Both the infrared furnace and fluidized bed reactivation processes have been pilottested by USEPA in drinking water treatment plants [18].

Other adsorbing materials besides GAC have also been investigated for treating pesticidecontaining wastewaters [19]. Kuo and Regan [20] investigated the feasibility of using spent mushroom compost as an adsorption medium for the removal of pesticides including carbaryl, carbofuran, and aldicarb from rinsate. The adsorption of carbamate pesticides on the sorbent exhibited nonlinear behavior that could be characterized by the Freundlich isotherm. Competitive adsorption was observed for pesticide mixtures with adsorption in the order: carbaryl>carbofuran>aldicarb. In another study, Celis and coworkers [21] studied montmorillonites and hydrotalcite as sorbent materials for the ionizable pesticide imazamox. At the pH of the sorbent [6-7], the calcined product of hydrotalcite was found to be the best sorbent for imazamox anion. Sudhakar and Dikshit [22] found that wood charcoal removed up to 95% of endosulfan, an organochlorine insecticide, from water. The sorption followed second-order kinetics with an equilibrium time of 5 hours. In a separate study, pine bark, a wood industry byproduct, was evaluated as an economical adsorbent for tertiary treatment of water contaminated with various organochlorine pesticides [23].

Oxidizing agents have been shown to be extremely effective for removing many complex organics from wastewater, including phenols, cyanide, selected pesticides such as ureas and uracils, COD, and organo-metallic complexes [11]. Many oxidants can be used in waste water treatment. Table 9 shows the oxidation potentials for common oxidants [24]. The most widely used oxidants in the

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