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Pure air spending as less as possible or… Pure air at the lowest possible cost

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Activated charcoal is a simple and old technique to process air pollution. Combined with a cloth, though, it opens new horizons.

“From a technological standpoint, we can almost do anything ; but the question remains : at what cost ?” That remark from Albert Subrenat, very relevant in pollution treatment, his area of expertise, outlines clearly one of the main goals of a researcher. In fact, his process to treat solvents has won a prize 1 because it is more efficient. The “raw material” remains the same : activated charcoal ; a simple and old technique to catch the volatil organic compounds, the well know VOC that should not be released in the atmosphere. Unlike old processes using grains, which regeneration is expensive, Albert Subrenat has created small filters made of cloth, which get regenerated faster with a direct electric heating and as efficient as a whole silo of grains heated by gas. Hence the savings in space, energy and spending. “Once the fundamental aspects are under control, there are still a lot of problems to be solved, points out the researcher of the École des Mines de Nantes : the shape to be given to the filter – it is pleated –, optimize its geometry to prevent leaks, dead zones and preferentiel path, eventually integrate it into a whole treatment system.”


Under a simple display, this two-cylinder system which alternatively catches solvents and regenerate (see explanation with this video) offers the best cost-efficiency ratio for all kinds of installations, especially for those with low output, but also in the “final treatment” step of large installations. This explains why Air Liquide was most interested in transferring the result of this research into action. Would there be other applicants ? “Air treatment professionals should also be most interested, emphasizes Albert Subrenat, but also the producers of technical gas because they have to deliver a very pure product, and the automobile manufacturers.”

The activated charcoal treatment of VOC has been over the years a field of excellence for the École des Mines de Nantes and it mobilizes the expertise of several teacher-researchers and PhD students of the department of Energy Systems and Environment (DSEE 2). And this is just the beginning. The process of Albert Subrenat can become more useful : it can treat other compounds, become much smaller or, conversely, become much larger in order to treat important outputs. VOC will not wait in vain!


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