What Is Catalytic Carbon Media in Water Treatment?

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Catalytic carbon is a type of filter media that removes select contaminants from drinking water.

In this guide, we’ve answered the question, “What is catalytic carbon?” You’ll learn how catalytic carbon filters are made, how they differ from standard activated carbon filters, what they remove, the types of systems they’re used in, and more.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • A catalytic carbon filter has an altered electronic structure that enhances its catalytic activity, enabling it to remove more contaminants (like chlorine and hydrogen sulfide).
  • This filter is made of activated carbon media that has been treated with a metal catalyst.
  • You can find catalytic carbon filters in point of entry (POE) and point of use (POU) water filtration systems.

📥 What Are Catalytic Carbon Filters?

Catalytic carbon filters are made from high-grade carbon (usually coconut shell carbon) that’s typically modified with a catalyst, like copper or silver, to enhance its ability to remove specific contaminants that conventional activated carbons may struggle to address.

Like any carbon filters, catalytic carbons adsorb contaminants. The difference is that it has catalytic properties, which facilitate chemical reactions that help break down and remove certain impurities.

According to Tom Scherer, Associate Professor/Agricultural Engineer at North Dakota State University, “Catalytic carbon is an advanced activated-carbon product designed to adsorb chloramines.”

Catalytic carbon

🔎 What Is Catalytic Carbon Made From?

A catalytic carbon filter is made from activated carbon that has been treated with a catalyst. The activated carbon itself comes from various natural sources – typically coconut shell, but sometimes wood, coal, or peat. These materials are processed, giving them a large surface area and a highly porous structure.

What turns activated carbon into catalytic carbon? The activated carbon media is treated to introduce a catalyst into its structure. The catalyst is usually metal, or a combination of metals, including copper or silver. These metals have catalytic properties, and the purpose of using them to treat the carbon media is to give it additional contaminant removal abilities.

This treatment process involves impregnating the catalyst material into the activated carbon. There are a few ways to achieve this, including using a vapor deposition technique to deposit the catalyst on the surface, or immersing the carbon media in a solution containing the catalyst.

After the catalyst treatment, the catalytic carbon is processed into filter media. It may take the form of blocks, granules, or cartridges, depending on its intended use. This media can then be used in a water filtration system to remove impurities from a tap water supply.

🚰 How Does Catalytic Carbon Work?

Catalytic carbon works by adsorbing various contaminants and delivering a catalytic reaction that breaks down other impurities.

Let’s look at how these two processes work in more detail.

Adsorption

A catalytic carbon filter has an activated carbon media with a large surface area and hundreds of tiny pores.

When water flows through the filter, contaminants like chlorine come into contact with its carbon surface. The carbon’s porous structure allows it to trap or adsorb impurities on its surface, while water molecules can pass through the pores and exit the filter on the other side.

Adsorption process

Catalytic Reaction

The catalyst incorporated into an activated carbon filter enhances its ability to target and break down other impurities.

During a catalytic reaction, CC converts various contaminants into harmless ions. For example, chloramine and chlorine are converted into harmless chloride ions, and hydrogen sulfide is converted into sulfuric acid and sulfurous acid. This further improves water quality and removes contaminants that activated carbon alone can’t address.

The catalytic reaction occurs as the water passes through the filter media. The catalyst allows for chemical reactions to take place more rapidly than they would otherwise.

🆚 What’s The Difference Between Catalytic Carbon And Activated Carbon?

The big difference between conventional carbons and catalytic carbons is filter design – and, subsequently, contaminant removal.

Activated carbon media, like granular activated carbon or carbon block media, removes contaminants with adsorption.

Catalytic carbon contains a catalyst that helps promote chemical reactions, and the filter’s catalytic activity allows it to remove additional contaminants (see the list below).

Due to their enhanced contaminant removal abilities, catalytic carbon filters are typically more expensive than traditional activated carbons.

🧫 What Do Catalytic Carbon Filters Remove?

Catalytic activated carbon removes:

  • Chloramines
  • Chlorine
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Taste and odor impurities
  • Herbicides
  • Pesticides
  • Fluoride
  • Some industrial chemicals
  • Some organic solvents
  • Some disinfection byproducts

What can’t this filter type remove from water? Catalytic carbon alone won’t remove heavy metals, minerals, bacteria, viruses, or dissolved solids. You’ll need to combine the filter with another media or choose a different water treatment system to remove these contaminants.

Removing dangerous impurities

📋 Types Of Filters That Use Catalytic Carbon

There are various filters that use catalytic carbon media, including:

POE Systems

Catalytic carbon is most commonly used in point of entry (POE) water filtration systems. These systems are installed at the main water line into your home and filter water to remove contaminants before it travels around your plumbing system. That means you can enjoy filtered water at every fixture, faucet, and appliance throughout your home.

POU Systems

Some point of use (POU) systems, such as under-sink filtration systems and countertop filters, also use catalytic carbon media. The activated carbon surface, modified to produce a faster chemical reaction rate, is particularly beneficial in POU systems for people who drink municipal water that has been disinfected with chloramine.

📉 Catalytic Carbon Filter Lifespan

Catalytic carbon systems typically have a media lifespan of 6-24 months before needing to be replaced.

There are several factors that affect the lifespan of catalytic carbon filter medial, including:

  • The filter size & surface area – The more filter media used and the larger its surface area, the greater its contaminant holding capacity and the longer it’ll last before becoming saturated with impurities.
  • The quality of the filter media – The better the filter quality, the longer it should hold up, and the better its lifespan.
  • The water conditions – The more contaminants the water contains, the faster the filter media will become clogged and the shorter its lifespan will be.
  • Your water usage – The more water you use per day, the more contaminants the filter will be exposed to, and the faster it’ll become clogged and require replacing.

The manufacturer of the filter you’re looking to buy should outline the expected filter lifespan. Make sure to replace the filter on time – failing to do so may mean that the filter will no longer remove contaminants from your water.

Springwell cf whole house water filter catalytic carbon and kds media

📆 When Should You Use A Catalytic Carbon Filter?

You should use a catalytic carbon filter if you need to remove specific contaminants that an activated carbon filter alone can’t remove.

A CC filter’s enhanced catalytic activity promotes chemical reactions that enable the filter to remove hydrogen sulfide and chloramine – two filters that conventional carbon can only reduce slightly.

If you know that your water contains a lot of hydrogen sulfide, or your local water supply is disinfected with chloramine instead of chlorine, a catalytic carbon filter should improve your water quality much more effectively than a normal carbon block or granular activated carbon filter.

📝 Final Word

Activated carbon makes for an effective solution for removing chlorine, taste, and odor from water – but if you need to remove additional contaminants, including chloramines and hydrogen sulfide, the best solution is to upgrade to a filter with added catalytic functionality.

Hopefully, you now know enough about these filters to decide whether they’re best suited to your contaminant removal preferences.

If you have any other specific questions, see if we’ve answered them in the FAQ below.

❔ FAQs

What is catalytic carbon used for?

Catalytic carbon is used predominantly for water purification, but it has other uses, too, including air purification, removal of impurities in the food and beverage industry, and decolorization and deodorization of liquids.

Is catalytic carbon better than reverse osmosis?

In terms of contaminant removal, no, catalytic carbon isn’t better than reverse osmosis. Catalytic carbon can only remove a select handful of contaminants, while reverse osmosis removes up to 99% of all total dissolved solids. However, if you’re just looking to remove select contaminants (like chloramine) and don’t want to purify your water, a catalytic carbon filter may be better than reverse osmosis for you because it’s cheaper, retains healthy minerals, and doesn’t waste water.

Does catalytic carbon remove chlorine?

Yes, catalytic carbon removes chlorine. The filter can remove chloramines, too – both chlorine and chloramine are converted to chloride. This leaves behind ammonia, and the media then oxidizes this ammonia and eliminates it from your water.

Does catalytic carbon remove fluoride?

Yes, a catalytic carbon filter can usually remove fluoride. However, CC might not completely eliminate this mineral from your water. Make sure the filter is marketed as a fluoride removal filter if removing fluoride is your main aim.

Does catalytic carbon remove iron?

Yes, catalytic carbon can remove low levels of iron. However, if you have a big iron problem, you’ll need to look at a dedicated iron filter, like air injection/oxidation systems or birm filtration systems. If you have ferric iron (rust) particles, a sediment filter should remove these from your water.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    Jennifer is a seasoned water treatment expert with over 18 years of experience in the industry, dedicated to improving water quality for clients across the USA and around the world. Her passion for helping others and extensive networking skills have led her to hold leadership positions in organizations like the North Port Area Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Home Builders Association. Jennifer is currently a managing partner at Redbird Water of West Texas, where she specializes in providing water filtration and solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial clients.

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