Carbon is one of the most abundant elements in the world and forms the basis of millions of compounds based on different structures and forms.
The properties of carbon differ on the basis of the carbon structure and state, while graphite made of carbon is immensely soft, diamond is also made of carbon but is one of the hardest known materials.
The major uses of carbon are in the form of petroleum products which are used as fossil fuels. These fossil fuels are further used to manufacture chemicals and materials, including carbon black, that are further used by other industries.
The demands from the global carbon black industry are expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5-4 percent by 2022, driven by demands from the tire industry in Asia and overall demands for specialty carbon black at a global level. The carbon black market is currently oversupplied and an additional capacity of 0.91 Million Metric Tons (MMT) is expected to be added to the global supply by 2021, with capacity additions in Asia and Russia.
Over the next five years, the operating rates for carbon black manufacturing are expected to be in the range of 80-85 percent. The tire industry is the single largest end-user segment for carbon black, accounting for approximately 67 percent of the demand.
The prices of carbon black are heavily dependent on the prices of the coal-based and crude carbon black feedstock (CBFS).
What Is Carbon Black?
Carbon black is a black powder produced by the incomplete combustion process of heavy petroleum products in a controlled environment. Petroleum products that are used for manufacturing carbon black are FCC tar, ethylene cracking tar, and coal tar. As a paracrystalline carbon, carbon black possesses a high surface area to volume ratio. Carbon black has a variety of uses, as strengtheners in rubber, as a color pigment, as a UV stabilizer and as an insulating or conductive agent for plastic, rubber, coatings, and ink.
However, according to the Internal Agency for Research on Cancer, carbon black is considered to be a possible carcinogenic, therefore extended human exposure to carbon black is discouraged.
Apart from being a possible carcinogenic, carbon black in powder form is considered to be harmful to the respiratory system, which is why people dealing with carbon black powder are advised extreme caution.
Carbon Black In The Automobile Industry
The automotive industry is growing at a rapid pace at a global level, especially in developing countries where the level of disposable income is rising amongst the general population. In developed countries, the automotive industry is growing at a steady pace, led by the development of advanced vehicles. Due to the cost differences of manufacturing in developed versus developing nations, many major automotive manufacturers are shifting their production base to emerging economies such as India and China.
There are two core uses of carbon black in the automobile industry, namely in tires and as coatings, although the primary application is in the form of tires.
Carbon black is added to the rubber used for manufacturing tires as a filler and a strengthening and reinforcing agent and is used in parts of tires such as inner liners, treads, carcasses, and sidewalls. Adding carbon black to tires serves an important role in increasing the rolling resistance of tires and the tread wear. Carbon black also increases the lifecycle of tires by protecting the tires from heat. The tires treated with carbon black provide increased fuel efficiency, a better grip on the road surface and improved handling of the vehicle overall. Good quality tires that have a secure grip on the road surface are immensely important so that the risk of road accidents can be reduced.
New research and technology are developing ways to reuse carbon black material from tires through the method of pyrolysis that involves burning off the organic material, reclaiming it and using it to make car battery parts.
Apart from usage in tires, carbon black is used for coating applications for automobiles, providing pigmentation, UV protection, conductivity and acting as an anti-static agent for fuel caps and pipes. Carbon black is also used in smaller plastic and rubber parts of cars such as belts, gaskets, air springs, chassis bumpers, wiper blades, and grommets.
The manufacturing process of carbon black is not environment-friendly and also negatively impacts the health of humans working with carbon black directly. Carbon black manufacturing also contributes to the greenhouse effect, due to which the industry is facing restrictions from governments and environmental protection groups.
Carbon black is a useful material that serves several purposes across industries but is most popularly used in making tires by the automobile industry. The rapid growth of the automobile market predicted in the coming years is accordingly driving the demand for carbon black.
Based on research, there will be an overcapacity of carbon black in the upcoming five years, further supporting the growth of the market.