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Old 07-09-2008, 09:38 PM   #1
Sun-n-Fun
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Activated Carbon Life - test results


I work in the air filtration industry and work closely with activated carbon manufacturers. It's a common practice to send out samples of activated carbon from systems that have been in use under steady state for a month or so and have it lab tested to determine its remaining life in order to establish the routine maintenance schedule.

I sent out a sample of the carbon from my aquarium to be lab analyzed (and yes, it is a different carbon than what we use for air filtration - I was able to special order a virgin bituminous coal based carbon with a premium activity for increased performance). I just got my lab results back and thought it would be of interest to some of you.

I have a 150 gal display with a 65 gal. sump & refugium and use a phosban 150 reactor filled with activated carbon. The sample had been in use for 30 days and my system was 1 year old (established).

CCL4 activity is a measure of how efficient or functional an activated carbon is. CCL4 activity will drop steadily with use until it is spent. My carbon has a minimum starting CCL4 activity of 70% and it is considered spent when it drops to around 20% (that number varies somewhat depending on which manufacturer you talk to). After 30 days, the lab results showed my carbon CCL4 activity was 22.8%.

So for my system with my carbon and using a phosban 150 reactor, 30 days is just about perfect for changing out the carbon. There's obviously a lot of variables, but for all of the anecdotal suggestions I've seen, I thought an actual "scientific" data point would be of interest. And this would obviously only be useful if you wanted to run carbon full time.
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Old 07-09-2008, 09:47 PM   #2
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Interesting results!
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Old 07-09-2008, 10:20 PM   #3
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Those results are intersting, but what is the actual difference between the carbon you were using for testing and the stuff that most of us can buy for our tanks? I am assuming that would make a huge difference, but readily admit that I do not know the science behind it.
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Old 07-09-2008, 10:27 PM   #4
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Very cool.

Thanks for sharing the results.
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Old 07-09-2008, 10:33 PM   #5
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Well, obviously different brands offered can have different properties, but in general, the initial CCL4 activity for most commercial carbons is about 60%. Some manufacturers use reactivated carbon (carbon that has been previously used, but reactivated by a high temperature process which results in a lower activity, around 50%), or a blend of virgin (meaning it is brand new, never been used) and reactivated which can be anywhere in between.

In addition, the material the carbon is made from can make a big difference. For reef tanks, you really should use bituminous coal based and stay away from coconut shell, lignite or wood based carbons. Most brands I've looked at in stores is already bituminous coal based, but I have seen some coconut shell and others out there.

So I would guess in my system, a typical commercial carbon with a starting activity of 60% would be spent approximately 20% faster. Think of it this way, the starting activity of 70% minus ending activity of 20% provides 50 usable activity points. Starting activity of 60% is 10 points less, so 10/50 = 20%. Not exactly right, but for all practical purposes close enough.
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Old 07-09-2008, 10:42 PM   #6
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Thanks a bunch. That is a great explanation and should be very helpful to a bunch of people out here.
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Old 07-10-2008, 06:02 AM   #7
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Cool Thanks!
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