Control of the pore size distribution and its spatial homogeneity in particulate activated carbon

There are circumstances where it is desirable to achieve a particular, optimal, pore size distribution (PSD) in a carbon, including in the molecular sieving, gas storage, CO2-capture and electrochemical energy storage. Activation protocols that cycle a carbon a number of times between a low-temperature oxygen chemisorption process and a higher temperature pyrolysis process have been proposed as a means of yielding such desired PSDs. However, it is shown here that for PFA-based char particles of ∼100 μm in size, only the super-micropores are substantially developed under such an activation protocol, with the ultra-micropores being substantially un-touched. It is also shown that a typical CO2-activation process yields similar control over PSD development. As this process is nearly 15 times faster than the cyclic-O2 protocol and yields larger pore volumes and areas for a given level of conversion, it is to be preferred unless spatial homogeneous porosity within the particles is also desired. If such homogeneity is desired, it is shown here that CO2 activation should continue to be used but at a rate of around one-tenth the typical; this slow rate also has the advantage of producing pore volumes and areas substantially greater than those obtained using the other activation protocols. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.