AbstractThis study explored the effect of activated carbon preparation conditions on their adsorption performance. Pinewood and wheat straw were used as source materials to prepare activated carbon via a fast activation process using KOH and microwave heating. The iodine numbers and carbon yields were determined to evaluate the adsorption properties of the activated carbon. The effects of various KOH/char mass ratios, particle sizes, humidity levels, and microwave heating times on the physical characteristics of the activated carbon were investigated. The iodine number and yield and SEM images were used to characterize the activated carbon. Small particle sizes, the presence of humidity in the purge gas, and high KOH/char ratios resulted in higher iodine numbers. The best activated carbons were obtained using a KOH/char ratio of 3.0, a microwave power of 600 W, a radiation time of 30 min, and a particle size of 0.1 to 0.42 mm in a humid environment; these carbons showed iodine numbers of 2208 mg/g (pinewood activated carbon) and 1420 mg/g (wheat straw activated carbon), with carbon yields of 73% and 52%, respectively. Longer microwave heating times increased the iodine number. The iodine numbers and yields of the pinewood activated carbons were much higher than those of their wheat straw counterparts.