After years of evangelism for rCB, Martin von Wolfersdorff now offers a whole new perspective on the future direction of this industry
I was wrong about recovered carbon black, and now need to adapt to the new reality, as does the entire recovered carbon black industry.
Having crystallised through the current global industry struggle around Covid-19 and through the work and conversations with my extensive network, I now realise that there is a paradigm change going on.
Those paradigms are about industry growth and about price. Product quality is another, but that is tied into the pricing topic, as you will see later.
Paradigm 1: Growth
Previously, I had thought that the growth of recovered carbon black will mainly be through application development in plastics, non-tire rubber and then, eventually, also in tire rubber. I have scouted many clients to their market this way.
Now, I have realised through several examples that the growth of recovered carbon black will be on the back of the growth of pyrolysis oil ? an intermediate hydrocarbon mixture that now is high in demand by chemical and polymer companies, refineries and even carbon black producers.
In order to be used as feedstock in these industries, the oil must be of the right quality, for example in terms of sulphur-content. But even more important is scale. Customers for oil feedstocks do not order by the truck-load, but rather it's by barges.
At the scale of tens of thousands tonnes, it becomes noticeable that the by-product recovered carbon black is scaling alongside the oil and therefore needs to be marketed in a way that makes the entire business operation viable.
Paradigm 2: Price
Recovered carbon blacks have long been seen mainly as an economical substitute to carbon black. But that situation has now changed.
Tire companies want and need to increase the amount of ecological, sustainable, recycled and bio-based materials. Even tire companies that previously were not active in this area, are now exploring applications with recycled materials. Many non-tire rubber and plastics companies follow that track too. There is more "pull" from customers for sustainable materials.
But there is a "push" as well. Due to the current slow-running of the rubber industry, there are big volumes of raw materials available in the market, including carbon black. While it might be "business as usual" for the contract customers, the spot prices for carbon black have plummeted in all major markets.
Recovered carbon blacks, which could previously be sold at 50-70% of the carbon black price, are now competing at eye-level with virgin product from domestic and import sources.
Only the highest quality recovered carbon blacks still manage to sell close to the old carbon black price. Those products have a clearly defined value proposition and are on par with carbon blacks in some applications and better in some properties, such as PAH and air permeability coefficient.
The new paradigm for recovered carbon black pricing, therefore, is 'aim high, both in terms of price and quality.
Recovered carbon black companies that have not yet fully developed their product to commercial quality now need to catch up. Meanwhile, those companies that have now need to build and scale their output alongside their production of pyrolysis oil.
I think that at larger scale and higher quality, recovered carbon black will be a lot more attractive as complementary offerings, alongside conventional carbon black products and green carbon blacks produced with pyrolysis oil.
Martin von Wolfersdorff is a Berlin based consultant with background in titanium dioxide, masterbatch and carbon black, specialising in the marketing of raw materials. He is an expert in recovered carbon black and describes himself as a "tire-to-tire recycling evangelist."