Introduction to Carbon Black
Carbon black results from partial or incomplete combustion or decomposition of aromatic oils, liquids and gaseous hydrocarbons. Due to various methods of preparation, carbon black is also widely recognised as furnace black, lamp black, acetylene black, channel black and thermal black.
Carbon black is a well recognised commodity product in European markets and is commonly available in the market in various forms such as powder, granules and pellets. It is identified by EINECS 215-609-9 and CAS no 1333-86-4. It’s composed of pure elemental carbon and minute contaminants from the manufacturing process.
The main applications of carbon black are in end-products that require characteristics such as colour, tint properties, reinforcement performance such as modulus and tensile strength, viscosity, die swell and fatigue resistance. Carbon black also provides high resilience and abrasion resistance for use in rubber products.
The Value Chain
The key raw material for the manufacture of carbon black is carbon black feed stock (CBFS) or carbon black oil (CBO). This is essentially procured either from oil refineries or from coal tar distillers. The feed stock can also be imported into European markets from the Middle East by ships and bulk containers. Dow Chemical Company’s Aromatic Division provides CBFS to European markets apart from few other recognised suppliers.
Manufacturing and production of carbon black has been dominated by a few multination companies such as Degussa AG, Cabot Corp and Columbian Chemicals Company that hold 50 to 60 per cent of the global volumes. The rest of the global market is highly fragmented and dictated by regional competitiveness. In Europe, Degussa AG is considered as the market leader in carbon black manufacturing. The distribution of these products comprises of manufacturers dealing directly with end-users and also distributing to reach remote locations.
The primary end-application for carbon black is the rubber market sector. Within this market, production of automobile tyres account for a significant proportion of total usage. Other non-tyre applications include its use in rubber products such as conveyor belts, flaps, hoses and gaskets. Plastic industries also widely use carbon blacks for their masterbatch applications in fibers, moldings, conductive packaging, semi-conductive cable compounds and films. As pigment black they find use in a wide range of applications such as in printing, carbon paper, inks, paints & coatings, enamels, paper, printer cartridge and toner, leather finishes, dry-cell batteries, electrodes and carbon brushes, and tapes.
Hurdles in the Market
The major hurdle for carbon black manufacturers is the emission of CO2 gas. Under the Kyoto Protocol, most countries have agreed to reduce and minimise their greenhouse emissions. In addition to CO2, other gases include nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride have been prime targets. The European Community has commitments to achieve reductions in its emissions levels by 2012 at 92 percent of base year 1990. This is a considerable challenge to manufacturers who need to explore alternative solutions to CO2 usage.
Globally there have been concerns over carbon black and its possible harmful effects to humans though evidence collected has been inconclusive. It has been labeled as possible human carcinogen (Group 2B) by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Material handling and transport of products such as carbon black presents significant risk of soiling. As these products are available in various forms its possible to transport them in closed systems. Due to their flow properties, the most preferred mode of shipping is flexible intermediate bulk containers rather than rigid containers or silos.
Carbon black growth in volumes is directly related to growth in rubber end-product markets. Volatility of tyre production and to a lesser extent on mechanical rubber products are expected to impact carbon black manufacturers. Tyre production in turn depends on automotive industry growth which is witnessing stable growth of around 3 percent. Retreading in this market sector is emerging as both boon and bane. Tyre production is likely to reduce with more retreading while carbon black will be required in both markets. Inks, printing and plastics are also significant markets for high carbon black usage. With technology advancements new end-application use are likely to be developed in addition to existing end-use.
Growth in global automotive and plastic markets is likely to result in increased carbon black production to meet tyre demands. Simultaneously carbon black manufacturers are continuously exploring technologies that minimise by-products while utilising them for beneficial use. Power regeneration using tail-gas and green house farming are a few examples that are already in place. End-product manufacturers, especially tyre manufacturers, also assume accountability for recycling their products and work closely with recyclers and government bodies to ensure efficient usage and a healthy environment.
By Mahesh S Kumar