Removing contaminants in the chemical industry

Europe’s chemical production industry is a major pillar of its economy and society, employing 1,2 million people directly and supplying essential products to many other sectors.

From our experience in this industry, we have found that air purification and waste water treatment are common challenges in different stages of the production processes. Activated carbon can be a very effective solution in various stages at all these stages and in variety of chemical companies.

In this e-book we discuss these common problems and their possible solutions.

The market: Chemical production and sales in the EU

With an annual turnover of € 570 billion, the EU’s chemical producing industry is the second largest in terms of sales in the world, after China.

Base or commodity chemicals account for 60% of EU chemical sales, excluding pharmaceuticals. These include petrochemicals; polymers, plastics and resins; and basic inorganics such as sulphuric acid and fertilisers.

Specialty chemicals, such as paints and crop protection, account for another 27%. Along with pharmaceuticals, this sector is growing.

Jeroen Callewaert, DESOTEC Chief Commercial Officer, says: “The beauty of the chemical industry in Europe is that it is wide-ranging and of essential importance on a global level, both for research and development and for manufacturing.”

“At DESOTEC, we are happy to be able to support all these diverse types of activities with our purification solutions, from solving environmental challenges to adding value in the production chain.”

Aims and applications 

There are several reasons why it may be necessary for chemical companies to treat emissions:

  • Complying with environmental legislation related to emissions to air, water or soil
  • Improving hygiene conditions for employees and those living near the factory
  • Removing impurities to add value to a product e.g. via decolourisation

Treatment of air emissions

Many chemical plants across Europe are seeking solutions for contaminated air emissions. Typical areas of concern at a chemical plants are venting of storage tanks and reactors, emissions during cleaning or maintenance processes, working spaces and production halls.

Contaminants in air emissions from the chemical industry are typically VOCs which also include:

  • Aromatic hydrocarbons: e.g. benzene and toluene
  • Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH): e.g. naphthalene
  • Chlorinated molecules: e.g. monochlorobenzene (MCB)
  • Brominated molecules
  • Dioxines

Wastewater treatment

Wastewater resulting from the production process often requires purification before it can be safely discharged into watercourses. Production waters include those from extraction processes or from precipitation reactions.

Cleaning and maintenance processes may result in wastewater that contains residues from the original chemicals or their reactions, plus the solvents used in the cleaning process.

Typical contaminants in wastewater from the chemical industry:

  • Chemical oxygen demand (COD)
  • Adsorbable organically bound halogens (AOX)

Purification of chemical streams

Frequently, manufacturers want to improve the quality, and thus the value, of a chemical product itself. This can be a standard step in the production process or can be implemented temporarily for a specific batch.

Typical contaminants in chemical products

  • Colour
  • Odour
  • Organic impurities and micropollutants



Want to know more about how contaminants in the chemical industry can be removed?

Download our e-book here in which we describe the purification of air emissions, wastewater and chemical details more in detail, and the advantages activated carbon filtration brings to customers.


At DESOTEC’s facilities, all used carbon is analysed so the right measures can be taken for handling and removing the saturated carbon out of the mobile filters. All molecules that were adsorbed on the activated carbon at the customers’ site, are desorbed inside DESOTEC’s reactivation furnaces. These contaminants are then fully destroyed, in accordance with National and European legislationby an incineration and neutralisation setup. The entire installation and it's emissions are under continuous on-line monitoring, which guarantees that only harmless water vapour is seen exiting the chimney.