Evaluation of granular activated carbon technology for the removal of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from drinking water

Tom C. Shih, Medhi Wangpaichitr, Mel Suffet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


This study evaluated granular activated carbons (GACs) using rapid small-scale column tests (RSSCTs) on methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) levels from 20 to 2000μg/L, with or without the presence of tert-butyl alcohol, benzene, toluene, p-xylene (BTX) in two groundwater (South Lake Tahoe Utility District [Lake Tahoe, CA] and Arcadia Well Field [Santa Monica, CA]) and a surface water source (Lake Perris, CA). Direct comparison between two GACs was made for RSSCTs conducted with surface water from Lake Perris. The impact of natural organic matter on GAC performance was investigated and found to correspond with total organic carbon concentration in the three source waters. Significant reduction in GAC performance for MTBE due to competitive adsorption from soluble fuel components (e.g., BTX) was observed. Little or no difference in GAC usage rate or bed life was detected as the empty-bed contact time is changed from 10 to 20min for RSSCTs conducted in the two groundwater sources, whereas the RSSCTs conducted in the surface water source exhibited significant increase in GAC usage rate as the empty-bed contact time is decreased from 20 to 10min. This finding suggests that the higher NOM content of the surface water over the groundwater sources caused a greater competitive-adsorption effect that made more sites on the GAC to be unavailable to MTBE, thus decreasing its rate of adsorption and GAC performance for MTBE. Finally, the impact of differential influent MTBE concentration on GAC performance was demonstrated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-385
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Empty-bed contact time
  • Granular activated carbons
  • Methyl tert-butyl ether
  • Natural organic matter
  • Rapid small-scale column tests
  • tert-butyl alcohol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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