Due to its versatility and wide range of applications, activated carbon is widely used as contaminant removal media. Recent research have focused on enhancing the effectiveness of activated carbon by modifying their specific properties in order to enable the carbon to develop affinity for certain contaminants. In view of this, a comprehensive list of literatures on chemical, physical and biological modification techniques of activated carbon pertaining to enhancement of contaminant removal from aqueous solutions was compiled and reviewed. Acidic treatment to introduce acidic functional groups onto surface of coal based activated carbon was by far, the most studied technique. It was apparent from the literature survey that the beneficial effects of specific modification techniques on activated carbon adsorption of targeted contaminant species from aqueous solutions were profound, with some studies reported increase of contaminant uptake factors of more than 2. Concurrently, considerable decreases associated with certain contaminant uptakes can also occur depending on the technique used.
Without pure water, it is impossible to survive for any living beings. The ratio of freshwater on our planet is very poor and the demand is increasing with time for the growing population. Furthermore, water is being contaminated by industrial and agricultural activities, pharmaceuticals, technocratic civilization, pesticides, garments, global changes etc. In addition to this, environmental pollution and global warming are swelling due to the greenhouse and harmful gases generated from the dumping and burning of fossil fuel. Addressing these problems, it is necessary to find out the cost-effective and environmental friendly processes to purify the contaminated water and air. Activated carbons (ACs) are one of the best solutions for removing the pollutants from aqueous and atmosphere as it is the carbonaceous materials with a high degree of porosity, well-developed surface area, and distinguished functional groups which are required for elimination of contaminants. The preparations of activated carbon are easy and safe processes, mainly from the pyrolysis or gasification of biomass with heat and/or chemicals. The recycling and regeneration of bituminous coal based activated carbon after use are also essential for resource maintenance and environmental safety. Thus, AC can protect the ecosystem in a double direction by purifying the water and air from the pollutants.
As the world’s population continues to grow, the demand for water increasing by 1% annually (WWAP/UN-Water, 2018). The population increase corresponds to the economic growth and development leading to rise in the use of chemical compounds, industrial compounds, agricultural wastes which pose the risk of polluting the existing water sources (Mohammad Razi, Al-Gheethi, Al-Qaini, and Yousef, 2018; Oladipo, Ifebajo, Nisar, and Ajayi, 2017; Qaisrani, Shams, Zhenren, Reza, and Zainuddin, 2018). It has reported that 663 million people have lacked access to clean water and 2.2 million deaths occurring due to diarrhea caused by inadequate sanitation and ingestion of contaminated potable water (Huang et al., 2018). The river, lake, and groundwater sources are contaminated due to fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, dyes, heavy metals from the industry which results in diseases like cancer, skin defect, kidney damage, liver problems, etc. (Ahmad and Danish, 2018). On the other hand, the burning of fossil fuel generates the greenhouse (GHG) and harmful gases like CO2, CH4, H2S, NO2 to the environment which are increasing with current energy demand for the rapid economic development (Ahmed, Abu Bakar, Azad, Sukri, and Mahlia, 2018a). Therefore, it is highly desirable to find the cheap and environmentally friendly adsorbent to get rid of the pollutants from water and air.
Of the above techniques, adsorption is one of the most popular methods used for the elimination of contaminants from wastewater due to its features of cost-effective, easy to operate, environment-friendly, low health risk, and non-destructive process (Balasundram et al., 2017; Oladipo and Gazi, 2015; Oladipo and Ifebajo, 2018). The addition of activated carbon (AC) in the adsorption process aids in the removal of a wide range of contaminants and carcinogenic compounds such as pharmaceuticals, metallic and non-metallic pollutants, dye and even taste and odor from aqueous solutions (Din, Ashraf, & Intisar, 2017). In comparison with other adsorbents like zeolite, clays, and polymers, AC shows better performance and stability in terms of adsorption (Regti, Laamari, Stiriba, and El Haddad, 2017). Recently, the pollutant gas adsorption by activated carbon has been recognized as a promising technology for the attraction mechanism between the pollutant and the surface functional groups (Le-Minh, Sivret, Shammay, and Stuetz, 2018). Production of AC from biomass can be seen as advantageous in two ways, firstly, it can prevent the production of CO2 by fixing the carbon and secondly, the AC can go into the soil naturally (Danish and Ahmad, 2018).