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Product Profile: Activated Carbon

HS CODE: 440290 (wood charcoal/activated carbon)/44029010 is the tariff line for India.

• Global trade of activated carbon from coconut shells surged at a CAGR of 5% from 2014-2018.
• Charcoal made from coconut shells is the main raw material for making activated carbon.
• Demand for activated carbon is high in US, UK, Germany, Japan and South Korea, where it is mainly used for the purification of gold, water and air.
• Activated carbon fetched a price of ₹ 140/kg in FY 2019 vis-a-vis ₹ 100/kg in FY 2018, helping India’s coconut product exports cross the ₹2,000-crore mark.

activated carbon

The use of activated carbon to remove harmful impurities like organic contaminants from water has been practised since Roman times. Activated carbon is the generic term used to describe a family of carbonaceous adsorbents with a highly amorphous form and extensively developed internal pore structure.

Activated carbon is extremely porous with a very large surface area, which makes it an effective adsorbent material. This large surface area relative to the size of the actual carbon particle makes it easy to remove large amounts of impurities in a relatively small enclosed space.

 Interestingly, the product has a strong connection with the humble coconut. The coconut shell is used for making an eclectic range of products of commercial importance including activated carbon. In fact, activated carbon processed from coconut shells is considered superior in quality to those processed from other sources mainly because of small macropores in the structure.

Applications of Activated Carbon

Water Filter Cartridges: A water filter removes impurities by minimising contamination of water using a fine physical barrier, a chemical process, or a biological process.

Pharmaceuticals: Purity is essential in the production of pharmaceutical products. This applies to all stages, from raw materials to intermediates to final product. The unique properties of specific activated carbons provide superior removal of colour compounds, odour compounds, proteins and other contaminants that could be present in the raw materials, or that form during production.

F&B: Beverage makers rely on activated carbon to remove bad tastes and odours and help ensure the long-term stability of their products. Activated carbon products are also used to improve the quality of beverages ranging from water to fruit juices to distilled liquor so that beverages look good, smell good and taste good.

Automotive: Activated carbon canisters reduce the hydrocarbon emissions from gasoline-powered automobiles and trucks. Also, many cars now include air purification systems that utilize activated carbon in their cabin air filters.

Water treatment/sea water distillation: Activated carbons are extensively used in water treatment for removing free chlorine and/or organic compounds. Removal of organics from potable water could be to prevent common organic acids such as humic or fulvic from reacting with chlorine to form trihalomethanes (a class of known carcinogens) or, to treat wastewater to remove any number of organic compounds to make the water suitable for discharge.

Activated carbon is a non-graphite form of carbon, which can be manufactured from any carbonaceous material such as coal, lignite, wood, paddy husk, coir pith, coconut shell, etc. Charcoal is produced from coconut shells, while activated carbon is made through a steam activation process that increases the surface area manifold and enhances the absorption capacity.

The activated carbon is broadly used in the refining and bleaching of vegetable oils and chemical solutions, water purification, recovery of solvents and other vapours, recovery of gold, in gas masks for protection against toxic gases, in filters for providing adequate protection against war gases/nuclear fall outs, etc.

Coconut-shell-based activated carbon has been notified under Focus Product Scheme and is now eligible for 2% export incentive.

Coconut-shell-based activated carbon has great demand in the global market and India holds the premier position in the global export of activated carbon in terms of prices. Due to increase in the global price of activated carbon, it fetched a price of ₹ 140/kg in FY 2019 vis-a-vis ₹ 100/kg in FY 2018, helping India’s coconut product exports cross the ₹ 2,000-crore mark in FY 2019.

activated carbon

India’s exports of activated carbon from coconut shell increased from US$ 15.4 million in 2015 to US$ 20.2 million in 2018, growing at a CAGR of 12%. Top three export destinations for India were Bhutan (US$ 14.6 million), Sri Lanka (US$ 2.9 million) and the Netherlands (US$ 1.5 million).

List of top exporters and importers of this product

Top exporters Export values in US$ million Top importers Import values in US$ million
World 1,265.35 World 1,444.15
Indonesia 288.39 Germany 128.92
Poland 117.87 Japan 124.42
China 83.39 South Korea 121.86
Ukraine 70.84 China 87.134
Viet Nam 67.96 USA 64.68
Philippines 50.98 France 64.04
Cuba 41.81 Saudi Arabia 61.10
Paraguay 38.83 UK 57.90
Mexico 36.67 Poland 56.75
Netherlands 34.80 Netherlands 42.45

The demand for activated carbon is high in US, UK, Germany, Japan and South Korea, where it is mainly used for the purification of gold, water and air. Global imports of activated carbon are expected to cross the US$ 3 billion mark by 2022, as it is an efficient way of cleansing.

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The low price of coconut shell and higher price realisation of activated carbon in India as well as at global markets has made the industry more attractive. However, coconut prices are known to fluctuate and consequently impact competitiveness. Their prices were three times the prices in other coconut growing countries between 2017-18 and 2018-19, and have only started declining recently.

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