Activated carbons prepared from cashew nut shells by chemical activation with phosphoric acid were tested for the removal of acetaminophen. It was found that an increase in carbonization temperature resulted in increased pore volume and decreased amount of surface functional groups. Potentiometric titration analysis indicated that the majority of surface groups on carbons are acidic. Detailed surface characterization by FT-IR, XPS, and thermal analyses indicated the involvement of surface functional groups in the removal of acetaminophen either via hydrogen bonding or by acid hydrolysis. The carbon obtained at 600 °C, which contains high amount of carboxylic groups and high pore volume, exhibited the highest adsorption capacity. For this carbon, the removal of acetaminophen took place mostly via acid hydrolysis with the formation of p-aminophenol and acetic acid adsorbed on the surface. Carbon obtained at 400 °C was found to have the highest density of acidic functional groups, which resulted in dimerization reactions and pore blockage. No direct correlation was observed between the adsorption capacities of carbons and their textural or surface characteristics. This suggests the complexity of acetaminophen removal by the cashew nut shell-derived activated carbons, governed by their surface chemistry and supported by high surface area accessible via micro/mesopores.
Keywords: Acetaminophen removal; Adsorption; Biomass-derived activated carbon; Cashew nut shells; Surface chemistry; Water remediation.