The use of activated carbon for the removal of pharmaceuticals from aqueous solutions: a review

  • Fatima Mansour
  • Mahmoud Al-Hindi
  • Rim Yahfoufi
  • George M. Ayoub
  • Mohammad N. Ahmad
review paper


The presence of pharmaceutically active compounds in surface and ground water is of concern due to the adverse effects they may have on human health, aquatic life, and the environment, emphasizing the importance of their removal from the water compartment. Activated carbon adsorption has proven to be effective for the removal of several types of inorganic and organic contaminants either as a stand-alone polishing step or in combination with other conventional and advanced water and wastewater treatment systems. This paper discusses the current status of the removal of pharmaceuticals from water using activated carbon derived from numerous precursors, providing an in-depth review of the multitude of factors (adsorbent properties, adsorbate properties, operating conditions) affecting the adsorption process, from the preparation of the activated carbon to its regeneration. A critical assessment of the existing literature is presented, highlighting research and development needs that may ultimately lead to a more comprehensive and sustainable use of activated carbon for the removal of pharmaceuticals from the water environment.


Activated carbon Adsorption Pharmaceuticals Regeneration 

List of symbols


Initial adsorption rate constant, mg/g/s


Measure of the width of sorption energy distribution in the Brouers Sotolongo model, dimensionless


Initial desorption rate constant, g/mg

[ ]

Concentration of pharmaceutical, mol/L


Number of neighboring sites occupied by the adsorbate, dimensionless


Redlich–Peterson isotherm constant, (L/g)mRP


Temkin adsorption constant, J/mol


Constant related to thickness of boundary layer, mg/g


Initial concentration of adsorbate, ng, µg or mg/L


Equilibrium adsorbate concentration, ng, µg or mg/L


Intraparticle diffusion coefficient, cm2/s


Characteristic adsorption energy, kJ/mol


Gibbs free energy, kJ/mol


Enthalpy, kJ/mol


Pseudo-first order rate constant, s−1


Pseudo-second order rate constant, g/mg/s


Diffusion reaction constant, L/mg/min


Fractionary order kinetic constant, h−1


Global kinetic constant (includes both kinetic constant of reaction in bulk liquid in absence of AC and the reaction occurring on AC surface), min−1


General order constant rate, min−1 (g/mg)n−1


Equilibrium constant for first monolayer, L/mg


Equilibrium constant for second monolayer, L/mg


Brunauer–Emmet–Teller adsorption constant, dimensionless


Brouers Sotolongo model constant, L/mg


Elovich equilibrium constant, L/mg


Freundlich equilibrium constant, mg/g mg−1/nF L1/nF


Liu equilibrium constant, L/mg


Intra-particle diffusion rate constant, mg/g h−0.5


Langmuir equilibrium constant, L/mg


Langmuir–Freundlich equilbirum constant for heterogeneous solids, L/mg


Nitta equilibrium constant, L/mg


Water dissociation constant, dimensionless


Redlich–Peterson isotherm constant, L/g


Radke–Prausnitz equilibrium constant, L/mg


Sips equilibrium constant, (L/mg)mS


Toth equilibrium constant, L/mg


Temkin equilibrium constant, L/mg


Freundlich model exponent, dimensionless


Liu model exponent, dimensionless


Heterogeneity parameter, dimensionless


Nitta model exponent, dimensionless


Polany–Dubinin–Manes model exponent, dimensionless


Redlich Peterson model exponent, dimensionless


Radke–Prausnitz model exponent, dimensionless


Sips model exponent, dimensionless


Toth model exponent, dimensionless


Order of kinetic adsorption


Fractionary order exponent, dimensionless


Acid dissociation constant, dimensionless


pH at zero charge, dimensionless


Amount of solute adsorbed per gram of adsorbent, mg/g


Saturation adsorption value of Brouers Sotolongo model, mg/g


Equilibrium adsorption capacity, mg/g


Maximum adsorption capacity on the first monolayer, mg/g


Amount of adsorbate adsorbed at time t, mg/g


Universal gas constant, J/mol/K


Entropy, J/mol/K


Adsorbate solubility, mg/L


Time, s, min, h


Temperature, K



The authors acknowledge the financial support of the University Research Board (URB) at the American University of Beirut.

Supplementary material

11157_2017_9456_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 13 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringAmerican University of BeirutRiad El Solh, BeirutLebanon
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringAmerican University of BeirutRiad El Solh, BeirutLebanon

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