Difference Between Charcoal and Activated Charcoal (With Table)

Charcoal vs Activated Charcoal

The difference between charcoal and activated charcoal is that the former is obtained by burning wood in the absence of oxygen. In contrast, the latter is obtained by burning carbon-rich materials at higher temperatures, with the addition of other substances.

The substances’ charcoal and activated charcoal are both derived from carbon and obtained by burning organic carbon material at very high temperatures.

Charcoal is obtained by heating wood, or other organic materials, at high temperatures and in the absence of oxygen. It is not a naturally occurring substance and is hence categorised as a human-made product.

Activated charcoal is obtained from either burning charcoal itself, or carbon-rich materials at very high temperatures. The charcoal powder is then burned with additional substances such as chloride salts.


 

Comparison Table Between Charcoal and Activated Charcoal (in Tabular Form)

Parameters of comparisonCharcoalActivated Charcoal
ProcessCharcoal is obtained by burning wood, or other organic materials, at high temperatures and in the absence of oxygen.Activated charcoal is the residue obtained by burning carbon-rich materials at high temperatures, with the addition of other substances.
Heating temperatureCompared to the temperatures required to burn and produce activated charcoal, the heat needed to burn charcoal is lesser.More heat is needed for the production of activated charcoal in comparison to standard charcoal, due to the addition of substances.
Properties/StructureHere, standard charcoal has properties such as low density, bad conductivity of heat and electricity, and porosity.Activated charcoal has a greater surface area, and that makes it an excellent absorbent in comparison to standard charcoal.
Purpose/UsesCharcoal is used in areas such as teeth whitening and oral health, filtration of water, cooking products, and treatment of diarrhoea.Activated charcoal is used in skincare products, deodorants, water filtration, and treatment of intestinal gas.
Porous structureThe internal structure of standard charcoal makes it less porous in comparison to activated charcoal.Due to the addition of substances such as chloride salts, the considerable surface area of activated charcoal makes it highly porous.

 

What is Charcoal?

Charcoal is considered to be a debased form of graphitic carbon, produced as a residue when carbon-rich material is either partially burned, or burned in the absence of oxygen. Carbon-rich substances primarily include materials such as wood.

One thing to note is that charcoal is not naturally occurring in nature; i.e., it is a human-made product. Even if charcoal was found in nature, it is highly probable that it was produced due to the influence of high temperatures such as forest fires.

Charcoal has many structural properties that make it very beneficial to use, such as –

  1. It has a porous structure and composition.
  2. Charcoal is brittle in nature as well.
  3. It is a bad conductor of heat and electricity.
  4. Charcoal also has a low density.

The chemical composition and structure make carbon easy to add into useful day-to-day products such as toothpaste and tooth whitening products, oral health products water filtration, treatment of diarrhoea and cooking products.

Even the ashes of charcoal are used in skincare products as well as in gardening. If the ashes contain no toxins, one can use it as a fertiliser.

Charcoal
 

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is obtained by heating carbon-rich materials such as wood, coconut, sawdust, peat or charcoal itself, at very high temperatures. Activated charcoal is also burned with additional substances such as acids, strong bases or salts (such as chloride salts).

The high temperatures force the molecules and ions inside the substance to bind tightly with each other. During the process of  “activation”, we observe that the charcoal loses any absorbed molecules from before.

Activated charcoal has many distinct properties that make it a much better option in comparison to standard charcoal, such as –

  1. More excellent pore size distribution in comparison to standard charcoal
  2. Great absorbing capabilities

Standard charcoal is bounded by chemical substances and hence has a comparatively smaller overall surface area. But, activated charcoal is much more porous in nature, due to its vast total surface area.

There are many uses of activated charcoal, and researchers have found many places where the properties such as high porosity can be useful, such as –

  1. Activated charcoal is primarily used in skincare products
  2. It is helpful in the production of deodorants
  3. In water filtration, one can observe that activated charcoal is a great purifier
  4. It can be used in medicines, such as for the treatment of intestinal gas.
Activated Charcoal

Main Differences Between Charcoal and Activated Charcoal

  • Charcoal is produced by partially burning wood and carbon substance, or burning in the absence of oxygen. In contrast, activated charcoal is obtained by burning carbon-rich materials, with the addition of other substances such as acids, bases, or salts.
  • Charcoal is burned under lower temperatures in comparison to the heat required to burn activated charcoal. The added substances in activated charcoal are the reason why such a significant amount of heat is required.
  • Charcoal has a smaller overall surface and is a lousy absorbant of materials in comparison to activated charcoal.
  • Charcoal is also less porous as compared to activated charcoal.
  • Charcoal is used in places such as cooking products and medicines, while activated charcoal is used in skincare products, deaodrants and water filtration.

 

Conclusion

Charcoal and activated charcoal are carbon-based substances, obtained in the form of residue when carbon-rich materials are burned. Charcoal is obtained when wood is partially burned, or when it is burned in the absence of oxygen. Activated charcoal, on the other hand, is obtained by burning carbon-rich substances at very high temperatures due to the addition of materials such as acid, bases, or salts (such as chloride salts).

Activated charcoal also has better properties in comparison to charcoal, such as greater overall surface area which makes it a great absorbant. Activated charcoal is also seen to be more porous in comparison to charcoal. Both these substances have been helpful to humankind for a long time, and researchers are still discovering new ways to use them.


 

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Difference Between Charcoal And Activated Charcoal