Normally, activated carbons are made in particulate form as powders or fine granules less than 1.0 mm in size with an average diameter between 0.15 and 0.25 mm. Thus they present a large surface to volume ratio with a small diffusion distance. Activated carbon is defined as the activated carbon particles retained on a 50-mesh sieve (0.297 mm).
Powdered activated carbon (PAC) material is finer material. PAC is made up of crushed or ground carbon particles, 95–100% of which will pass through a designated mesh sieve. The ASTM classifies particles passing through an 80-mesh sieve (0.177 mm) and smaller as PAC. It is not common to use PAC in a dedicated vessel, due to the high head loss that would occur. Instead, PAC is generally added directly to other process units, such as raw water intakes, rapid mix basins, clarifiers, and gravity filters.