TORONTO — Raw materials suppliers face various challenges in providing tire makers with the quality and quantity of materials they need, but they are more than prepared to meet those challenges.
This was the message representatives from three raw materials sectors — carbon black, natural rubber and synthetic rubber — had for attendees at "Driving to the Future," the 2019 Tire & Rubber Summit sponsored by the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada.
The carbon black industry is almost unrecognizable from the time carbon black was first invented in 1891, according to Robert Rist, regional director, product management, reinforcement materials at Cabot Corp.
"The early process was very dangerous, and not very sustainable," Mr. Rist said. However, both safety and quality grew exponentially, especially after carbon black was first added to tires in 1912. That addition, Mr. Rist said, increased tire life by 10,000 miles.
Now, there are more than 40 grades of carbon black, each offering different levels of performance to tire applications, he said.
Better treadwear, lower rolling resistance, improved processing, lower capital expenditures, reduced waste and a lower carbon dioxide footprint are only some of the advantages carbon black offers to tire makers, he said.
However, environmental regulations, impacts on feedstocks and supply/demand dynamics are all putting pressure on carbon black manufacturers, he said.
Consent decrees for environmental cleanup between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and carbon black manufacturers have diverted funds from industry expansion, according to Mr. Rist.
Canada's carbon dioxide emissions tax program under the Paris Accord also will affect carbon black makers, as well as Ontario's pending limits on sulfur-dioxide emissions, he said.
Carbon black has three major feedstocks, according to Mr. Rist: decant oil, ethylene cracker residue and coal tar. There are environmental and cost pressures on each, he said, and the International Maritime Association's MARPOL 2020 agreement, sharply cutting sulfur limits on fuel oil for tankers, promises to raise prices for decant oil.
While fuel oil isn't a feedstock for carbon black, he said, MARPOL 2020 will affect the differentials between fuel and decant oil.
The consequence of all this is plain, he said: "Tire investment is outpacing that of the carbon black industry."
Seven new tire plants have either opened or are about to open in North America, with no parallel increase in carbon black capacity, he said.
The U.S. carbon black industry is operating at 90% capacity with no new capacity coming online, he said.