Based on article appeared in November/December issue of European Rubber Journal magazine.
Regulation is arguably the no. 1 challenge for carbon black producers right now. This is particularly the case in Europe and North America, where tougher environmental and health & safety regulations are set to raise production costs significantly.
On the other hand, demand for carbon black is on the up, with even a warning of shortages in North America, partly due to hikes in tire capacity, which is forecast to increase there by 10-25 million units/year up to 2022.
But this warning, from Leszek Nikiel, manager of the Fort Worth, Texas, Research Center for Sid Richardson Carbon & Energy Co. was equally linked to regulatory pressures on the carbon black industry.
The US Environment Protection Agency wants the industry to cut plant emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide by 90 percent and 95 percent respectively.
Both of these requirements carry major costs and process drawbacks – the former in particular.
“It is almost impossible to lower sulphur in carbon black operations and still make a viable product,” Nikiel said. “Lowering sulphur changes viscosity and reduces yield.”
Using a low-sulphur feedstock for carbon black is the best solution, but are expensive and in very limited quantity, he added in a report by ERJ sister title Rubber & Plastics News.
“There is not enough low-sulphur feedstock to meet demand, and it would bring carbon black prices up,” the Sid Richardson research center manager said.
The resulting cost increase will go beyond capital cost, having a significant impact on operating cost, he said. As a result, Nikiel warned that around 25 percent of US carbon black production – mostly smaller plants – could be forced to close because of the new EPA rules.