Activated Carbon & Carbon Footprint

Donau Carbon
What is the carbon footprint and why is it worth considering? The carbon footprint is the result of a calculation of all greenhouse gas emissions for a production or business process. The CO2 footprint can also be calculated for products or even business trips and events. The CO2 footprint of a product includes the entire value chain: from production and use to recycling or disposal.
The CO2 footprint takes into account all the greenhouse gas emissions that occur – in addition to carbon dioxide (CO2), for example also methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) or fluorocarbons (HFC). Due to their different effect on the greenhouse effect, the CO2 footprint is given as CO2 equivalents (CO2e). This unit of measurement reveals the extent of any greenhouse gas on global warming compared to the same amount of CO2 as a base.
The calculation of a CO2 footprint can be a contribution to showing the corporate commitment to sustainable products. Customers are increasingly asking about environmentally friendly products or services and are increasingly considering sustainability aspects when making purchasing decisions. Therefore, the active handling of the topic of sustainability and the associated transparent communication of the topic is already very relevant for the various interest groups (stakeholders) of a company. This relevance will increase significantly in the future.
How did Donau Carbon GmbH calculate the carbon footprint of activated carbon?
The calculations of the CO2 footprint of activated carbon were carried out in cooperation with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg GmbH (ifeu) as part of the project "CoAct - Integrated urban-rural concept for the production of activated carbon and energy sources from residual biomass" at the University of Kassel . As an activated carbon producer and supplier, Donau Carbon GmbH has collected extensive data on all inputs and outputs for the production of activated carbon - both from its own production and from the production of activated carbon purchased from external suppliers - and for the above-mentioned project provided. From this data, different CO2 footprints were calculated for the different stages of the production life cycle:
  1. New production of activated carbon in Asia (including raw material extraction, carbonization, activation, post-treatment and logistics to Europe).
  2. Reactivation of loaded activated carbon (incl. logistics).
  3. Disposal (recycling) of loaded activated carbon (incl. logistics).
What are the results of the carbon footprint calculations?
The results of the CO2 footprint calculation for the three considerations mentioned above are shown for activated carbon based on coconut shells (renewable raw material) and for activated carbon based on hard coal (fossil raw material).
The results show the expected, significant differences in the consideration of coconut shell activated carbon and hard coal activated carbon. The production of fresh hard coal activated carbon causes around five times the greenhouse gas emissions of the production of fresh coconut shell activated carbon (carbon footprint ratio 1:5).
The reactivation of loaded activated carbon shows fewer differences between the renewable and the fossil activated carbons (ratio of the CO2 footprint approx. 1:1.6 in favor of the coconut shell activated carbon).
The absolute values ​​show the clear ecological advantage in the reactivation of activated carbon compared to new production. Here the ratio of the CO2 footprint is approx. 1:4 (coconut shell-activated carbon) or approx. 1:13 (hard coal-activated carbon) in favor of reactivation (possibly reference to the blog post on reactivation).
The CO2 footprint for the final use of activated carbon shows clear differences: While for the use of activated carbon from renewable raw materials almost no greenhouse gas emissions can be assumed, since only the transport of the activated carbon is to be weighted here, the use of activated carbon from mineral origin (e.g. hard coal) produce 40 times the greenhouse gas emissions.
The determination of the CO2 footprint of different activated carbon qualities confirms the general assumptions about the environmental compatibility of activated carbon:
  1. Reactivation is ecologically significantly cheaper than the new production of activated carbon - regardless of the starting material used. If an activated carbon can be reactivated several times, the ecological costs drop again.
  2. The production and use of activated charcoal from renewable raw materials is ecologically significantly cheaper than that of activated charcoal from fossil raw materials.
All in all, for the life cycle of an activated carbon (manufacture, one-time reactivation and recycling) there is a ratio of the CO2 footprint of approx. 1:15 in favor of the activated carbon from renewable raw materials (here coconut shells).
Outlook into the future / continuous improvement:
We at Donau Carbon GmbH are always striving to increase the use of renewable raw materials for the production of activated carbon. This is done on the one hand through continuous improvement of existing activated carbon products and through newly developed activated carbon qualities from our own R&D department as well as through intensive advice to our customers.
We are also working on new system technology in order to be able to reactivate highly loaded activated carbon in the future, which has previously been excluded from reactivation.
In addition, we are making efforts to increase energy efficiency in our manufacturing facilities and warehouses.
Autor: Christian Ries
HSEQ Specialist
Donau Carbon


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