Thermally and chemically activated powdered carbons (PAC), and their granular countertypes (GAC) with similar physical characteristics were used to investigate the extent of bioregeneration in laboratory-scale activated sludge reactors. Bioregeneration of activated carbon was determined by measurement of bulk phenol concentrations and loadings remaining on activated carbon. It was also followed by oxygen uptake rate measurements. For the carbons used in this study, bioregeneration of chemically activated carbons was found to be higher than thermally activated ones. This was in accordance with their higher reversibility of adsorption and showed that bioregeneration was controlled by the reversibility of adsorption. Oxidative polymerization of phenol was a plausible explanation for low bioregeneration of thermally activated carbons. However, bioregeneration efficiencies of thermally activated carbons were much higher than their total desorbabilities. This unexpectedly high bioregeneration indicated that some exoenzymatic reactions had occurred. These results suggest that carbon activation type is of crucial importance for bioregeneration. PAC and GAC countertypes showed comparable bioregeneration efficiencies indicating that carbon size was not an effective factor. The environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) studies showed that microorganisms were attached both on the external surface and interval cavities of activated carbon particles. (c) 2006 Society of Chemical Industry.