Production of activated carbon from South African sugar-cane bagasse.
Devnarain, Prathisha Baruth.
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The South African sugar industry generates excessive amounts of sugar cane bagasse (~ 25 wt% of feed) as a byproduct during the extraction of sugar juice from cane. Although bagasse is extensively consumed in various processes, a substantial amount remains unexploited. The industry's core business is the production of refined sugar which involves among others, a step of decolourising raw sugar liquor. Activated carbons are well known adsorbents and their excellent decolourisation capabilities have been established since 1800 in the sugar industry. The possibility of making suitable in-house activated carbons from sugar cane bagasse to aid the decolourisation process of raw sugar liquor is of interest to the growing South African sugar industry. The purposes of this research study were to develop an understanding on the manufacture of activated carbons from sugar cane bagasse, produce suitable activated carbons on a laboratory scale, characterize them and subsequently determine their sugar decolourisation capabilities under simulated conditions. The application of the two-step physical method of processing was found to be the most effective and feasible route to produce activated carbons from sugar cane bagasse for the purposes of decolorizing unrefined sugar. A semi-batch process was developed whereby compressed sugar cane bagasse was pyrolysed under a nitrogen atmosphere at a heating rate of 10 °C/min to the final pyrolysis temperature for a desired hold time resulting in bagasse chars with a rudimentary pore structure. These bagasse chars were subsequently subjected to partial and controlled gasification with a steam/nitrogen mixture at higher temperatures to produce the final activated carbon product. Both pyrolysis and activation were carried out in a pyrolysis furnace that was modified to represent a fixed bed reactor system. The process was designed such that it included a steam supply and a gas cleaning system. Feasible processing conditions were established by varymg the temperature, hold time and partial pressure of steam in the pyrolysis furnace. The bagasse chars and final activated carbons were characterized with respect to surface area, pore volume, pore size distribution, methylene blue number, iodine number and molasses number. The optimum pyrolysis conditions were found to be at heating rate of 10°C/min to the final pyrolysis temperature of 680 °C for a hold time of 1 hour, which gave rise to microporous carbons. Increasing the steam partial pressure and activation temperature during activation of bagasse chars resulted in the gasification reaction proceeding at a much faster rate leading to well developed mesoporous activated carbons having high adsorption capacity for large colour bodies present in molasses and sugar liquor. This was achieved by activating bagasse chars at a temperature of 900°C for 2 hours with a steam / nitrogen mixture of 1:0.6 which resulted in 50% bum-off being reached. Excellent powder and granular activated carbons were produced from sugar cane bagasse fibres by the established process with the latter being mixed with refined sugar prior to pyrolysis and activating for half an hour extra. A typical final activated carbon produced in this research possessed a BET surface area of 995 m2/g, pore volume of 0.82 crrr'zg, iodine number of 994 mg/g, molasses number of 700 and methylene blue number of 256 mg/g. High ash content in the bagasse raw material tends to decrease the surface area and pore volume for adsorption of the final activated carbon. Both granular and low ash bagasse activated carbons possess high adsorption capacity to remove large colour bodies from molasses and brown liquor solutions and compare well with commercial Norit N2 carbon . Approximately 80% colour removal was achieved using 0.5 g carboni 100g brown liquor. The bagasse activated carbons were stable in acidic and basic brown liquor solution and maintained their high decolourisation potential. The ability of bagasse activated to replace commercial activated carbons has been proven in this study. The option of producing both granular and powder activated carbons provide flexibility of the sugar industry to choose between batch and continuous adsorption systems during sugar decolourisation. This research has established that the fact that excellent sugar decolourising activated carbons can be produced from South African sugar cane bagasse fibres. However, more research needs to be carried out in order for the sugar industry to take this project to the commercial stage and it is suggested that a pilot study and an economic study be carried out.