Creating Activated Carbon From Food Waste (CCC Carbon Method)

Picture of Creating Activated Carbon From Food Waste (CCC Carbon Method)
For a full Youtube tutorial:

Activated carbon is a porous substance derived from organic material (usually woody, fibrous stuff). The useful thing about activated carbon is that it can filter out contaminants from both water and air, which makes it an important substance in filtration system.

We examined a variety of methods (we considered 40+ samples to be adequate) to create activated carbon; through testing, we believe that we have found the optimal material and protocol to create the closest thing to commercial-standard activated carbon. We tried to create the easiest solution that implemented tools you already have around the household (because not everyone has a drum-steel burner on their hands).

This Instructable is meant for those DIYers with a bit of time (ok, only about two days) who aren't afraid to burn, burn, and burn. This flexible method takes all sorts of food waste and turns them into activated carbon for filtration. Use it while camping, biking, or even at home!

Our hope is that this method will eventually help impoverished areas improve overall health by providing an easy and flexible filtration option.


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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
Alrighty! If you're reading this, you've just completed the first step to creating your own activated carbon!

When thinking of materials, we tried to be flexible so that you wouldn't have to go out and buy everything (that kinda defeats the purpose, doesn't it?). Here's what you need to make the carbon.

A metal container, with a lid
An oven (or something that gets hot)
A fireplace, grill or pit (something you can burn on)
A strong acid, base, or salt (we'll explain later. Some examples we have tested include 25% Calcium Chloride, Bleach, and Lemon Juice Solutions).
The food waste.

Now, picking the food waste is by far the most important step here. You want a nice, fibrous substance that already has a lot of pores. For example, commercial carbon is made with hardwood or coconut husk (that's what you see above). These are fine, but we have also tested banana peels, orange peels, nut shells, and rye husks with similar results. Feel free to explore. If you choose something with a lot of water content, you might want to dry it beforehand to prevent steam buildup.

brenda-1 year ago

thanx i love definately gonna try this. but im a little slow.when you say 25% ,am i putting 75% water with 25% bleach or lemon juice?

Could this be done with coffee grounds?
I honestly have no idea. In theory, coffee grounds should be able to function as a suitable food waste, as the origin of grounds come from seed "berries". However, you'd still have to fully char them, even if they are roasted. Have fun testing!
I've always wondered what makes "Activated Charcoal" different from the basic variety that might be used in a barbecue or an artists supplies. Thanks for addressing this issue.
I would also like to know because I dont like bleach. It's a strong chemical that I prefer not to have around my son or pets.
Would vinegar work in the place of the chemicals listed above?
IMHO it should, the question is what should the absolute concentration of the acid/base/salt be? vinegar is standard at 5% acetic acid, where lemon juice citric acid content can vary up to 25% between lemons (i dont know the average concentration off hand sorry.)
nocureforcrazy (author)  keastes1 year ago
We tested 10-50% dilutions of some extra-strength white vinegar (10% acetic acid) we found at our local market. The results were at most feeble: all dilutions have a 12.5% increase in porosity. 25% bleach has an 62.5% increase in porosity. 25% lemon juice has the same effect, but the citric acid content does vary depending on your location.

That's why we recommend bleach, with lemon juice as a backup. You could test for stronger dilutions of both lemon juice and vinegar if you'd like. We will be soon posting all of our research data online as part of the Google Science Fair 2013. Hope this helps!
rimar20001 year ago
This is a VERY USEFUL INFO, thanks for sharing it.