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Methods for preparation and activation of activated carbon: a review

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Activated carbon refers to a wide range of carbonised materials of high degree of porosity and high surface area. Activated carbon has many applications in the environment and industry for the removal, retrieval, separation and modification of various compounds in liquid and gas phases. Selection of the chemical activator agent is a major step controlling the performance and applicability of activated carbon. Here, we review chemical activators used to produce activated carbon. We compare the impregnation method with the physical mixing method used in activating with alkali hydroxides. We selected 81 articles from Google Scholar, PubMed, Scopus, Science Direct, Embase and Medlin databases. Eighteen articles report the activation with potassium hydroxide, 17 with phosphoric acid, 15 with zinc chloride, 11 with potassium carbonate, nine with sodium hydroxide, and 11 with new activating agents. Activation with phosphoric acid is commonly used for lignocellulosic material and at lower temperatures. Zinc chloride generates more surface area than phosphoric acid but is used less due to environmental concerns. Potassium carbonate, in comparison with potassium hydroxide, produces higher yields and a higher surface area for the adsorption of large pollutant molecules such as dyes. Activating with potassium hydroxide in terms of surface area and efficiency shows better results than sodium hydroxide for various applications. Also, the comparison of the physical mixing method and the impregnation method in activation with alkali metals indicates that the activated carbon obtained through physical mixing had a higher porosity than the activated carbon produced by the impregnation method.

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Adapted by kind permission of Noureddine Barka (Tounsadi et al. 2016)

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Adapted by kind permission of Sanagi (Nur, et al. 2015)

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Adapted by kind permission of Sanagi (Nur 2015)

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Impregnation rate


Medical subject headings

q max :

Maximum adsorption capacity


Brunauer, Emmett and Teller surface area

t :

Adsorption time

T :

Activation temperature

V t :

Total pore volume


Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy


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This research has been supported by the Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences (Code # 980071) and Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran.

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Correspondence to Mohammad Hadi Dehghani.

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Heidarinejad, Z., Dehghani, M.H., Heidari, M. et al. Methods for preparation and activation of activated carbon: a review. Environ Chem Lett 18, 393–415 (2020).

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