I readily admit to being a pyrophiliac and can generally be found near fire when there is fire. (Fire good, tree bad.) One of the byproducts of fire, naturally, is charcoal. I was looking into ways to activate charcoal instead of buying it over the counter - because how cool would it be able to just make your own - but my research so far isn't very promising.

Apparently, I require intense heat and very little oxygen in order to turn the home and garden variety of charcoal into activated charcoal (as one might find in Norit).

Is it possible to activate your own charcoal (preferably in one's backyard), and if so, does anyone have any ideas or suggestions that I can use to turn my meagre amount of (regular) charcoal into activated charcoal?

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to chemistry.SE! If you had any questions about the policies that govern our community, please visit the help center or take a tour. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Jan 19 '15 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @MARamezani! The warm welcome is appreciated, though I am uncertain whether I should read your comment as a hint that my topic is not quite what you people generally cover? (I've checked the tour page, but I couldn't really make out whether that was what you intended either..) $\endgroup$ – spoorlezer Jan 19 '15 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ Don't worry. I'm accustomed to leaving those links as a sign of feedback to new users. You understand that not all questions are as on-topic as your question is. Yours isn't off-topic at all: Asking for a home experiment involving a chemical reaction. It's sheer chemistry alright. However, my research too hasn't shown any safe ways of doing what you intend to do. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Jan 19 '15 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MARamezani Oh, whew. :) And yeah, the safety is one of the reasons I haven't yet tried it on my own. Self preservation wins out every time. I guess I'll never be a successful inventor at this rate, but I also won't be statistic #x that blew their own sorry ass to kingdom come. XD $\endgroup$ – spoorlezer Jan 19 '15 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @spoorlezer - you can get activated charcoal by cutting open an ordinary water filter. EDIT: oops, I see that you want to make your own! Well best of luck :D! $\endgroup$ – Dissenter Jan 19 '15 at 22:34

Note that like most of the colleagues on this site with practical lab experience, I've used activated charcoal once in a while, but I never bothered to make it myself.

Supposed that you live on the countryside with enough space around, you can make your own charcoal in a earth-covered pile or an oven - unless local environmental regulations ban that.

Activation, even when starting from ordinary charcoal is different. The gas activation requires heating (and partial burning) of the charcoal at up to 1000 °C in a stream of air, carbon dioxide or water vapour. I'd rather not do it in my backyard.

  • $\begingroup$ can't bunsen burnders achieve temperatures of 1000 C? $\endgroup$ – Dissenter Jan 19 '15 at 22:38

Sorry for reviving this question, but I just saw it today. Since you already have charcoal, I guess you don't need the process required for making charcoal. But, you know, just in case:

making charcoal

activated charcoal from charcoal

The only extra thing you need is calcium chloride. There's a nice video explaining all the steps in great detail, if you need it. I used these sites myself for making activated charcoal and they worked pretty well.

Note: this will not produce high quality grade charcoal but it's effective.

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