BEIRUT: A group of researchers at the American University of Beirut succeeded in turning dry pine needles, usually a forest fire hazard, into activated carbon that is used as a purification material, an AUB statement said Tuesday.

The team, led by civil and environmental engineering professor George Ayoub, was the first to scientifically test the effectiveness of the activated carbon produced from pine needles in removing heavy metals from water.

In addition to water, activated carbon is also used in air filters, the statement said.

“The advantages [of pine needles] are that they are available worldwide and in large quantities,” Ayoub was quoted as saying.

“They are very simple to collect, and they’re already dry so they don’t require a lot of breaking down in order to convert them [into activated carbon]. In other words, it’s much cheaper to turn pine needles, instead of wood, into activated carbon,” Ayoub added.

Ayoub said that relying on pine needles would reduce the cutting down of pine trees to produce activated carbon.

While local Lebanese regulations on the treatment of industrial contaminants are hardly enforced, Ayoub believes there is still a large market for activated carbon, which makes the collection and conversion of pine needles a viable business.

“Activated carbon is used very much in the water treatment industry,” he said. “It’s the best absorbent material that you can think of. It’s also used in medicine.”