Such expansions include Birla Carbon’s decision in July to increase carbon black capacity by 150 kilotonnes per annum (ktpa) over the next 18 months.
Cabot Corp also announced in May that it was adding over 300ktpa of capacity through a plant expansion, operational improvements, and debottlenecking projects.
While Birla and Cabot’s expansions cover Asia and Europe, further capacity expansions have been announced in China and India to address demand, which is largely driven by the growing tire industry.
“These capacity additions will not come on stream in time [to ease] 2018 and 2019 carbon black shortages in Europe, the US or India,” said Martin von Wolfersdorff of Wolfersdorff Consulting Berlin.
This opens opportunities for carbon black imports and also recovered carbon black (rCB) in the meantime, said Wolfersdorff, who ran an rCB workshop during the Dusseldorf conference.
Meanwhile, the tire industry continues to invest heavily in new production capacity, with $23 billion scheduled to be spent between 2017 and 2022, according to Ita.
However, increasing raw-materials costs, including carbon black, will be a major headwind for tire makers.
In the US, for instance, all major carbon black makers have settled with the EPA for stricter emissions control, which will trigger additional price increases in a growing market.
Current shortages stem from the different investment cycles between tire/rubber customers and carbon black manufacturers, Tomas Celka, MD, Omsk Carbon Europe GmbH, told the Dusseldorf conference.
According to Celka, global consumption of carbon black is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.5% – surpassing 15 million tonnes per year by 2030.
In Europe, Middle East and Africa, carbon consumption is estimated at 2.45 million tonnes this year, with the figure set to reach 2.75 million tonnes by 2023.
Production in the region is expected to reach 2.35 million tonnes by the yearend: Russia remaining the biggest supplier of the material with an estimated production capacity of 1 million tonnes a year.
Europe, he added, will largely remain import-dependent with demand set to reach 2.4 million tonnes and production at 1.5 million tonnes by 2023.
The main import sources will continue to be Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East and Latin America. Ukraine and Russia, with possibly Chinese players finding a role too, suggested Celka.
With annual consumption of 4.77 million tonnes, China remains the world’s largest carbon black market. Suppliers are, however, facing a squeeze from competition from countries with lower cost bases and the more advanced industrialised regions.