Practical experiences with granular activated carbon (GAC) at the Rietvlei Water Treatment Plant

  • Michele Clements
  • Johannes Haarhoff
Keywords: Granular activated carbon, Regeneration, Bed expansion, Backwashing, Abrasion, Apparent density


The Rietvlei Water Treatment Plant was extended with a granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration system after an exhaustive series of tests, which were started in 1994. Upon commissioning towards the middle of 1999, a year of close monitoring followed to measure the GAC performance at full-scale. After verification that the GAC does indeed ensure a high quality product under all conditions, the emphasis shifted to the optimisation of the GAC handling and regeneration system. Frequently moving the entire GAC inventory from the filters to an off-site regeneration plant and back requires significant operational effort and contributes a major part of the total cost of the GAC system. A number of systematic investigations were carried out in response to a number of practical questions that arose at Rietvlei. The first part of the study was directed towards tracking and quantifying the GAC on and off site. The main findings were that 10.0% of the GAC is lost from the filter during backwashing (0.3%) and removal of GAC from the filter for regeneration (9.7%). The sump does not trap all this GAC and 2.3% of the total inventory is lost to the river. Inserting a sieve at the outlet of the sump can eliminate this loss. A further 80.3% of the GAC in a filter is removed for regeneration, of which 18.7% is lost during the regeneration process. The minimising of this loss can only be achieved through the optimisation of the regeneration process, which falls within the domain of the regeneration contractor. The second part of the study was directed at the behaviour of the GAC whilst within the filter bed. The porosity and sphericity were determined by laboratory tests and calculations. The porosity was found to be 0.69 for the 12 x 40 size carbon and 0.66 for the 8 x 30 size carbon. By using a calibrated bed expansion model, bed expansion could be calculated at 9oC and 23oC for the two carbon gradings; the maximum temperature range experienced at Rietvlei. The main finding of this part of the study was that the average available freeboard is 650 mm for the 12 x 40 grading and 430 mm for the 8 x 30 grading, and therefore no GAC should wash over the weir at all during backwashing. The third part of the study measured the physical changes of the GAC found at different points in the GAC cycle. The main findings were that the small fraction of GAC washed out of the bed during backwashing and removal has a finer grading, higher apparent density and lower adsorption capacity than the GAC in the filter bed. There seems to be no marked attrition of the carbon or generation of fines during the removal and transport of the GAC to the regeneration plant. After regeneration, there was a 7.0% decrease in apparent density and a 30.0% increase in adsorption capacity.The final part of the study correlated the adsorption capacity of the GAC with its time in use as well as UV254 removal. After regeneration, UV254 removal begins at approximately 20.0% and declines to 14.0% after 400 d of operation, and to 10.0% after 600 d. After regeneration, the iodine number begins at approximately 800 g/mg, declines to 600 g/mg after 400 d of operation, and to 500 g/mg after 600 d.

Water SA Vol.30(1): 89-95

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eISSN: 0378-4738