Ethanol can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass through fermentation; however, some byproducts from lignocellulosics, such as furfural compounds, are highly inhibitory to the fermentation and can substantially reduce the efficiency of ethanol production. In this study, commercial and polymer-derived activated carbons were utilized to selectively remove the model fermentation inhibitor, furfural, from water solution during bioethanol production. The oxygen functional groups on the carbon surface were found to influence the selectivity of sorbents between inhibitors and sugars during the separation. After inhibitors were selectively removed from the broth, the cell growth and ethanol production efficiency was recovered noticeably in the fermentation. A sorption/desorption cycle was designed, and the sorbents were regenerated in a fixed-bed column system using ethanol-containing standard solution. Dynamic mass balance was obtained after running four or five cycles, and regeneration results were stable even after twenty cycles. © 2011 American Chemical Society.