Biodegradation and adsorption of micropollutants by biological activated carbon from a drinking water production plant

Laura Piai, Marco Blokland, Albert van der Wal, Alette Langenhoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


The presence of micropollutants in surface water is a potential threat for the production of high quality and safe drinking water. Adsorption of micropollutants onto granular activated carbon (GAC) in fixed-bed filters is often applied as a polishing step in the production of drinking water. Activated carbon can act as a carrier material for biofilm, hence biodegradation can be an additional removal mechanism for micropollutants in GAC filters. To assess the potential of biofilm to biodegrade micropollutants, it is necessary to distinguish adsorption from biodegradation as a removal mechanism. We performed experiments at 5 °C and 20 °C with biologically active and autoclaved GAC to assess the biodegradation of micropollutants by the biofilm grown on the GAC surface. Ten micropollutants were selected as model compounds. Three of them, iopromide, iopamidol and metformin, were biodegraded by the GAC biofilm. Additionally, we observed that temperature can increase or decrease adsorption, depending on the micropollutant studied. Finally, we compared the adsorption capacity of GAC used for more than 100,000 bed volumes and fresh GAC. We demonstrated that used GAC shows a higher adsorption capacity for guanylurea, metformin and hexamethylenetetramine and only a limited reduction in adsorption capacity for diclofenac and benzotriazole compared to fresh GAC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number122028
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


  • Activated carbon bioregeneration
  • Contaminants of emerging concern
  • Micropollutants removal
  • Temperature effect
  • Water treatment


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