Activated Alumina vs. Silica Gel

Activated Alumina vs. Silica Gel
Published On:February 3, 2021 Revised On:August 29, 2023

Desiccants absorb moisture and are essential for maintaining product quality and stability by countering moisture-related issues. They counteract corrosion, mould, and degradation arising from humidity. This article closely evaluates activated alumina and silica gel desiccants, highlighting their distinct traits, benefits, and limitations. We will explore their structures, mechanisms of moisture adsorption and applications such as industrial drying and safeguarding electronics.

Overview of Activated Alumina and Silica Gel

Activated alumina is a highly porous material primarily composed of aluminium oxide. It is produced by heating aluminium hydroxide to high temperatures, removing water molecules and creating a network of interconnected pores. This porous structure gives activated alumina remarkable moisture-absorbing properties and a large surface area for adsorption.

The structure of the desiccant resembles a crystalline lattice with irregularly shaped pores. These pores provide a high surface area-to-volume ratio, enabling the material to adsorb significant amounts of moisture. The properties of activated alumina, such as its high porosity, low bulk density, and thermal stability, make it an effective desiccant in various applications.

Activated alumina’s moisture adsorption mechanism is based on its ability to attract and retain water molecules on its surface and within its pores. The polar nature of the aluminium oxide surface interacts with water molecules, causing them to adhere to the material. As the relative humidity of the surrounding environment increases, the desiccant adsorbs moisture until it reaches equilibrium, at which point it can no longer adsorb additional moisture without regeneration.

Silica gel is a granular, synthetically manufactured desiccant composed of silicon dioxide. Despite its name, the desiccant is not liquid; it appears as solid granules that vary in size. Its high surface area and porous structure make it an excellent moisture-absorbing material.

The desiccant’s structure comprises interconnecting microscopic pores, giving it a vast internal surface area. This porous network allows for the absorption of moisture. Silica gel can be modified with various additives to enhance its moisture adsorption capacity or to make it indicator-equipped for humidity monitoring.

The moisture adsorption mechanism of silica gel is based on its physical adsorption capabilities. The surface of silica gel carries a strong affinity for water molecules due to its polar nature. As air with moisture comes into contact with silica gel, water molecules adhere to its surface and pores. This adsorption process continues until the equilibrium moisture content is reached.

Differences between the Desiccants

Material Composition and Source: Activated alumina is primarily derived from aluminium ore and undergoes high-temperature activation. On the other hand, silica gel is synthetically manufactured from silicon dioxide, often derived from sand. This distinction in base materials contributes to variations in their properties and adsorption behaviours.

Adsorption Capacity: Activated alumina boasts a higher moisture adsorption capacity than silica gel. This attribute is attributed to activated alumina’s extensive porous structure, which provides a larger surface area for moisture molecules to adhere to. Consequently, activated alumina is often favoured when moisture removal on a larger scale is necessary.

Adsorption Rate: The rate at which a desiccant absorbs moisture is a critical factor in moisture-sensitive applications. Activated alumina exhibits a relatively slower adsorption rate due to its complex surface and pore adsorption mechanism. In contrast, silica gel demonstrates a rapid adsorption rate, making it suitable for situations where quick moisture removal is essential.

Regeneration Methods: Regeneration, the process of restoring desiccants to their original moisture-absorbing state after reaching saturation, differs between activated alumina and silica gel. Activated alumina is typically regenerated through heat treatment, where the desiccant is exposed to high temperatures to release the accumulated moisture. Silica gel, however, can be regenerated through relatively lower temperatures, making it a more energy-efficient option.

Compatibility with Different Gases and Liquids: Activated alumina is well-suited for applications involving air and gases, as it effectively adsorbs moisture in these mediums. Silica gel, due to its physical adsorption mechanism, is versatile and can work with a broader range of substances, including liquids and gases, making it a preferred choice in situations where versatility is essential.

Advantages and Disadvantages

By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of both options, we can make informed decisions when selecting the optimal desiccant for managing moisture in diverse environments.

Activated Alumina Desiccants

One of the primary strengths of activated alumina is its adsorption capacity. Due to its network of interconnected pores, the desiccant can effectively adsorb and retain significant amounts of moisture from the surrounding environment. This high adsorption capability makes it suitable for scenarios where moisture removal on a larger scale is required.

This desiccant also performs remarkably well in high-humidity conditions. Its ability to maintain adsorption efficiency even at elevated humidity levels makes it a reliable option for applications where moisture content can fluctuate significantly.

Activated alumina has excellent thermal stability, allowing it to withstand high temperatures without significant degradation. This desiccant makes it well-suited for applications involving processes that generate heat, ensuring that the desiccant’s performance remains consistent.

Compared to other desiccant options, activated alumina desiccants are more expensive. Their relatively low bulk density can lead to challenges in handling and packaging. Its fine particles can create dust during handling, which might necessitate specialised handling procedures and equipment to prevent excessive dust formation.

Silica Gel Desiccants

One of the key advantages of silica gel is its cost-effectiveness. It is relatively affordable to manufacture and is available in various grades to meet different moisture control needs.

This desiccant can be infused with indicators that change colour as the desiccant absorbs moisture. This feature provides a visual signal of the desiccant’s saturation level, facilitating easy monitoring and timely replacement, which is particularly valuable in scenarios where maintaining specific humidity levels is critical.

Silica gel’s versatility allows it to be used in diverse environments and applications. Its ability to adsorb moisture from gases and liquids makes it adaptable in various industries, from packaging to electronics. The desiccant’s adsorption capacity diminishes as humidity levels increase.

Its effectiveness can be limited in high-humidity environments, as it reaches saturation faster than other desiccants. Silica gel granules are relatively fragile and can break into fine dust particles during handling and transportation. This dust can pose challenges, particularly in critical applications of cleanliness and hygiene.


Activated alumina stands out with its high adsorption capacity and suitability for high-humidity environments. Its thermal stability and efficacy in moisture removal make it useful in applications that demand efficient moisture control.

On the other hand, silica gel has cost-effectiveness, versatility, and rapid adsorption rate. Its indicator options and compatibility with various substances make it a choice in scenarios requiring adaptability and responsiveness.

Stream Peak supplies activated alumina and silica gel. We manufacture desiccant bags filled with activated alumina or silica gel packets, certified with ISO 9001 and 14001. Feel free to contact us for a no-obligation desiccant consultation.