Adsorption and biodegradation of organic micropollutants in activated carbon filters

Organic micropollutants such as industrial chemicals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals are present in surface water and some are not removed by conventional drinking water treatment. Even though they are present at very low concentrations the effects to human health of chronic consumption of those compounds are not well stablished, and therefore additional treatment is needed to remove these compounds from water.

Activated carbon (AC) is widely applied in water treatment as its adsorptive properties support the removal of organic compounds from aqueous media. However, the regeneration of the carbon after saturation of its adsorptive capacity is a costly and energy intense process.


The aim of this research is to understand the contribution of biodegradation to the removal of organic micropollutants in AC filters and how biodegradation can be stimulated to bio-regenerate the AC.

Technological challenge

  • Biodegradability of organic micropollutants can vary and sometimes metabolites are less biodegradable than the parent compound. AC can promote biodegradation by increasing biomass concentration, increasing contact time between biomass and substrate and adsorbing inhibitory compounds.
  • Adsorption and biodegradation are processes that usually occur in parallel in an activated carbon filter. Different strategies are applied to quantify the contribution of adsorption and biodegradation to the removal of micropollutants from water and how they affect each other.
  • Operational parameters of an activated carbon filter influence their performance. Lab-scale filters are used to study how to optimize micropollutants removal in a continuous process.