aivated carbon, also called activated charcoal, is a form of carbon commonly used to filter contaminants from water and air, among many other uses. It is processed (activated) to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption (which is not the same as absorption) or chemical reactions. Activation is analogous to making popcorn from dried corn kernels: popcorn is light, fluffy, and its kernels have a high surface-area-to-volume ratio. Activated is sometimes replaced by active.
Due to its high degree of microporosity, one gram of activated carbon has a surface area in excess of 3,000 m2 (32,000 sq ft) as determined by gas adsorption. Charcoal, before activation, has a specific surface area in the range of 2.0–5.0 m2/g. An activation level sufficient for useful application may be obtained solely from high surface area. Further chemical treatment often enhances adsorption properties.
Activated carbon is usually derived from waste products such as coconut husks; waste from paper mills has been studied as a source. These bulk sources are converted into charcoal before being 'activated'. When derived from coal it is referred to as activated coal. Activated coke is derived from coke.