HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.By 2020, the U.S. tire industry will face a significant shortage of carbon black, according to a speaker at the 2015 Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference.
A combination of increased domestic tire production and a stiff regulatory stance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will account for the shortfall, according to Leszek Nikiel, manager of the Fort Worth, Texas, research center of Sid Richardson Carbon & Energy Co.
Tires are about 30 percent carbon black on average, and more than 70 percent of carbon black production goes into tires, according to Mr. Nikiel.
Carbon black manufacturing plants used to be high polluters, he continued, but now they are self-contained and clean, and their environmental impact has been reduced significantly.
Sid Richardson's carbon black co-gen plant in Big Spring, Texas, has eliminated 90,000 tons of coal burned annually compared with operations, Mr. Nikiel said. This in turn eliminates more than 380 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually, as well as more than 660,000 pounds of sulfur oxide emissions, 1.1 million pounds of nitrogen oxide and 38,000 pounds of particulate emissions, he added.
Nevertheless, the efficiency of the plant is not 100 percent, and there are still a lot of emissions.
The EPA has targeted the U.S. carbon black industry to reduce 90 percent of its nitrogen oxide emissions and 95 percent of its sulfur oxide emissions, Mr. Nikiel said.
Of the five major U.S. carbon black manufacturers, twoCabot Corp. and Continental Carbon Co.have settled with the EPA, agreeing to install stringent new controls in their plants and pay many millions of dollars for remediation, he said.
Of the various methods to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions in carbon black operations, he said selective catalytic reduction is the most promising, offering an efficiency rate approaching 95 percent.
Reducing sulfur oxide emissions, however, is much more difficult.
It is almost impossible to lower sulfur in carbon black operations and still make a viable product, he said. Lowering sulfur changes the viscosity and reduces yield.
Wet scrubbing for sulfur is highly efficient at over 90 percent, Mr. Nikiel said, but produces gypsum as a by-product, while dry scrubbing has no by-products and uses little or no water, but its efficiency is under 70 percent.
Using a low-sulfur feedstock for carbon black is the best solution, according to Mr. Nikiel, but low-sulfur feedstocks are expensive and in very limited quantity. There is not enough low-sulfur feedstock to meet demand, and it would bring carbon black prices up.
The U.S. may need more carbon black production to meet tire industry demand, according to Mr. Nikiel. At the same time, the carbon black industry may need to spend significant capital to bring U.S. carbon black plants up to the EPA's environmental standards, he said.
Some 25 percent of U.S. carbon black productionmostly smaller plantscould be forced to close because of EPA enforcement, Mr. Nikiel said. The resulting cost increaseprobably four to eight cents per poundwill go beyond capital cost, having a significant impact on operating cost.
Asked during the question-and-answer period about carbon black industry plans to expand production, he said it was very hard to comment.
The EPA will permit building plants in the U.S. very soon, but I don't know what our competitors will do.