Super-fine powdered activated carbon (SPAC) for efficient removal of micropollutants from wastewater treatment plant effluent
In an effort to mitigate the discharge of micropollutants to surface waters, adsorption of micropollutants onto powdered activated carbon (PAC) after conventional wastewater treatment has been identified as a promising technology for enhanced removal of pharmaceuticals and pesticides from wastewater. We investigated the effectiveness of super-fine powdered activated carbon, SPAC, (ca. 1 µm mean particle diameter) in comparison to regular-sized PAC (17-37 µm mean diameter) for the optimization of micropollutant removal from wastewater. Adsorption isotherms and batch kinetic experiments were performed for 10 representative micropollutants (bezafibrate, benzotriazole, carbamazepine, diclofenac, gabapentin mecoprop, metoprolol, ofloxacin, sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim) onto three commercial PACs and their super-fine variants in carbonate buffer and in wastewater effluent. SPAC showed substantially faster adsorption kinetics of all micropollutants than conventional PAC, regardless of the micropollutant adsorption affinity and the solution matrix. The total adsorptive capacities of SPAC were similar to those of PAC for two of the three tested carbon materials, in all tested waters. However, in effluent wastewater, the presence of effluent organic matter adversely affected micropollutant removal, resulting in lower removal efficiencies especially for micropollutants with low affinity for adsorbent particles in comparison to pure water. In comparison to PAC, SPAC application resulted in up to two-fold enhanced dissolved organic carbon (DOC) removal from effluent wastewater. The more efficient adsorption process using SPAC translates into a reduction of contact time and contact tank size as well as reduced carbon dosing for a targeted micropollutant removal. In the tested effluent wastewater (5 mg/L DOC), the necessary dose to achieve 80% average removal of indicator micropollutants (benzotriazole, diclofenac, carbamazepine, mecoprop and sulfamethoxazole) ranged between 13-15 mg/L. These promising results warrant pilot-scale tests using super-fine PAC as an alternative to PAC for more efficient micropollutant removal.