The History of Activated Carbon February 09 2014, 4 Comments


The exact date and time that man began using activated carbon or charcoal is lost to history. However, there is evidence of its usage and importance throughout history, from the ancient world to the modern era.


Around 3750 B.C., the Ancient Egyptians made use of charcoal to smelt ores to create bronze. By 1500 B.C., according to the first documented use of charcoal as written on papyrus, the Egyptians’ use of charcoal had progressed, using the material to absorb unpleasant odors, cure intestinal ailments and even preserve the dead. 

In 400 B.C., the Ancient Hindus and Phoenicians had started using charcoal to purify water because of its antiseptic properties. The Phoenicians were noted for charring barrels to hold water on long sea voyages. This practice was adopted by many other seafarers throughout history, including Christopher Columbus, and continued until the 1800s. 

By 50 A.D, Hippocrates, one of the most historic figures in the history of medicine started using charcoal for a number of medical purposes, including treating epilepsy, chlorosis and vertigo. By 2 A.D., another important figure in medical history, Claudius Galen produced almost 500 treatises on the use of charcoal in medicine.


Though charcoal was in steady use throughout the centuries, it made a strong resurgence in the late 1700s. More doctors, chemists and other scientific figures began experimenting with the material for both medical and manufacturing processes. In 1773, chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele quantified the adsorption forces for porous carbon by measuring the volume of gases adsorbed by the material. In 1776, Lowitz performed the first experiments that proved that carbon could be used to decolor solutions, noting the adsorptive properties of charcoal in liquid phase. 

One of the biggest discoveries in this period, however, was in 1794, when an English sugar refinery found that carbon could be used as a decoloring agent. This revolutionized the sugar industry, which was looking for a way to produce a whiter, more appealing product. In turn, this development pushed the experimentation of activated carbonfurther. By 1805 all of Europe was using charcoal to decolor sugar.


Charcoal continued to be a strong force in the 19th century, especially in medicine. It was used for poultices, sloughing ulcers and treating gangrenous sores. After the activated carbon process was developed around 1820, it became noted in medical journals as an antidote for poison and a treatment for intestinal disorders. In 1883, French chemist, Gabriel Bertrand, in an effort to prove charcoal’s worth as a poison treatment, swallowed arsenic mixed with charcoal. Others followed suit and performed the same trick. 

In 1862, Frederick Lipscombe helped pave the way for commercial applications ofactivated carbon by using the material to purify potable water. German physicist, Heinrich Kayser, coined the term “adsorption” to describe charcoal’s ability to uptake gases in 1881.


Activated carbon was first produced on an industrial scale at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1909 a plant named “Chemische Werke” was built to manufacture carbon for commercial use, producing various carbon such as Eponit, Purit, Norit and Calgon  The Norit Company, a manufacturer in Holland, was started in 1911 and became widely known in the sugar industry for their powdered solutions, widely used in the chemical and food industries for decolorization. 

During World War I activated carbon was used in gas masks worn by American soldiers to protect them from poison gas. This development led to the production of granular carbon on a large scale.


Today, the uses of activated carbon continue to grow. It can be found in virtually every hospital, clinic or doctor’s office in the world, used on almost a daily basis. The material is used in a variety of industries, including corn and cane sugar refininggas adsorptiondry cleaningpharmaceuticalsfat and oil removalalcoholic beverage production and much more. The biggest market for activated carbon is in the purification of municipal water supplies. Activated carbon filters are used in water treatment to remove organic compounds that produce carcinogens during the disinfection of water. The second biggest market for activated carbon is removal of heavy metals in the coal fire powder plants in USA and Canada from 2014. 

The new market for activated carbon is for home use to remove the odor to keep air plash.