A wet pressurized pyrolysis (wet carbonization) process has been invented as a means of producing activated carbon from a wide variety of inedible biomass consisting principally of plant wastes. The principal intended use of this activated carbon is room-temperature adsorption of pollutant gases from cooled incinerator exhaust streams.
Activated carbon is highly porous and has a large surface area. The surface area depends strongly on the raw material and the production process. Coconut shells and bituminous coal are the primary raw materials that, until now, were converted into activated carbon of commercially acceptable quality by use of traditional production processes that involve activation by use of steam or carbon dioxide.
In the wet pressurized pyrolysis process, the plant material is subjected to high pressure and temperature in an aqueous medium in the absence of oxygen for a specified amount of time to break carbonoxygen bonds in the organic material and modify the structure of the material to obtain large surface area. Plant materials that have been used in demonstrations of the process include inedible parts of wheat, rice, potato, soybean, and tomato plants. The raw plant material is ground and mixed with a specified proportion of water. The mixture is placed in a stirred autoclave, wherein it is pyrolized at a temperature between 450 and 590 °F (approximately between 230 and 310 °C) and a pressure between 1 and 1.4 kpsi (approximately between 7 and 10 MPa) for a time between 5 minutes and 1 hour.
The solid fraction remaining after wet carbonization is dried, then activated at a temperature of 500 °F (260 °C) in nitrogen gas. The activated carbon thus produced is comparable to commercial activated carbon. It can be used to adsorb oxides of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, and trace amounts of hydrocarbons, any or all of which can be present in flue gas. Alternatively, the dried solid fraction can be used, even without the activation treatment, to absorb oxides of nitrogen.
This work was done by John W. Fisher of Ames Research Center and Suresh Pisharody, K. Wignarajah, and Mark Moran of Lockheed Martin Corp.