Recovered Carbon Black: Major Step Toward Sustainable and Responsible Future
- 21-Oct-2022 9:51 AM
- Journalist: Timothy Greene
Every year more than 1.7 billion tires reach the end of their lives and end up in landfills polluting the environment. Hence, reusing the tires for recovery of Carbon Black and other chemicals becomes paramount to ensure a healthy environment, sustainability in Carbon Black manufacturing, and a step towards a circular economy. Until recently, there were limited to no significant efforts made to bring the consumed tires into the recovery of Carbon Black. In the last few years, there has been an increased cry for sustainability in operations and circularity in economic activities. Among the manufacturers, Orion Engineered Carbons and Birla Carbon are the leaders in bringing eco-friendly practices into their operations, renewability, and concrete actions toward recycling Carbon Black.
Carbon Black has been a highly versatile product catering to many key industries, including automotive, paints & coatings, adhesives & sealants, and recently its increased usage in battery production. Manufacturers globally have been highly vigilant in seizing the market opportunity and expanding production capacity. Currently, Carbon Black manufacturing is a highly environmentally degrading process in which 1 Metric ton of Carbon Black is produced using 1.2-1.5 Metric tons of fossil fuel (usually residual heavy oils derived from petroleum refining operations, the distillation of coal tars, and the production of ethylene) and vast quantities of water, and in turn, the production process releases 3 Metric tons of Carbon dioxide along with other gases and harmful chemical compounds. To curb the release of regulated compounds, including Sulphur Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide, the companies traditionally use combustion, which produces useable energy as a by-product.
The Carbon Black market is expected to show modest growth from 2022 to 2027. The Rubber Carbon Black market is expected to grow by 2-3%, while the Specialty Carbon Black market is forecasted to grow with 4-5% CAGR for the abovementioned years, as per Orion Engineered Carbons. Rubber Carbon Black has a major end-use in the tire industry. The total global Capacity of Carbon Black has been around 13.5 million metric tons, including both rubber and specialty Carbon Black. Thus, the need to integrate recycled or recovered Carbon Black into the different value chains becomes more paramount than ever. Hence, this is high time to incorporate the recovered Carbon Black into different value chains not only to meet the Carbon Black demand but to limit environmental degradation.
Carbon Black has been an integral part of the tire manufacturing process as it is used as a rubber reinforcing agent to provide increased tread durability, reduce rolling resistance, and improve traction. Over 2.5 billion tires are produced yearly, and every tire contains approximately 3 kg of Carbon Black, which amounts to 7.5 million tonnes of Carbon Black in tires. Thus, one readily available source of Carbon Black is End of Life Tires (ELTs); however, the addition of mineral additives during tire manufacturing posed a significant challenge during the recycling of ELTs to recover Carbon Black. Therefore, traditionally, using ELTs to produce energy has been the only economically viable option. However, there has been advancement in technologies towards the demineralization of ELTs and extraction of highly purified Carbon Black from ELTs, and to use of recovered Carbon Black (rCB) in tire manufacturing and other industrial applications.
Among the top 4 largest Carbon Black producers, Birla Carbon is the largest producer of Rubber Carbon Black and captures the big chunk of global rubber Carbon Black demand. Meanwhile, Orion Engineered Carbons is the largest supplier of specialty Carbon Black and caters to significant demand for specialty Carbon Black. Cabot Corporation has a production capacity of 2 MMTPA, and Jiangxi Carbon Black Cat Corporation, with an annual production capacity of more than 1 million MT, are the other two major players in the market with significant global capacity.
As per Orion Engineered Carbons (OEC), the company captures close to 25% of the total global specialty market where the demand from polymer (non-auto) and printing & coating (non-auto) form major end-use segments. The two segments cater to 83% of total volume, and an emerging segment is Lithium-ion batteries which are expected to grow by a whopping 17%-19% as per Orion Engineered Carbons.
Orion has been highly active in their effort to ensure sustainability in its business operations and aims for a circular economy. OEC has been premiered in all three departments: Enabling Carbons, Recycling Carbons, and Renewable Carbons. Given the substantial growth forecast for the Lithium-ion Battery industry, the focus now shifts to more conductive carbons, and Enabling Carbons has been the prime step in optimizing the performance of Carbons.
Recycling Carbons include using ELTs (End of Life Tires) to produce pyrolysis oil and then employing it to produce both specialty and rubber Carbon Black. Orion has been a global leader in its search for a biobased alternative of the feedstock for producing Carbon Black to the conventional high sulphur content oils. In 2021, Orion Engineered Carbons Partnered with the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) to Produce Renewable Carbon Black at Commercial Scale. As per OEC, Recyclable/Renewable Carbon use in tires will be 10% of the market by 2030.
“We are committed to meeting the rising interest in renewable Carbon Black as the tire industry works to address its long-term goal of reducing fossil-derived feedstocks across the supply chain. This partnership is yet another step in our sustainability strategy, and we look forward to partnering with rising on this exciting and critically important project,” said David Deters, senior vice president of Orion Engineered Carbons.
Birla Carbon, having a total Carbon Black capacity of over 2 MMTPA, is also among the responsible manufacturers who have been embracing the uncertainty and have been working towards sustainability in operations. Birla Carbon has partnered with Circtec to produce a trademarked product Continua SCM (Sustainable Carboneous Material), from ELTs. Circtec has been producing SCMs, Circular chemicals, and sustainable drop-in fuels from the ELTs procured from around the world. Continua SCM usage ensures a reduction in the carbon footprint of rubber, plastics, and coatings industries.
Manufacturers of Carbon Black on their own cannot bring all the ELTs into the value chain and close the loop in the tire and rubber industry, other stakeholders including recyclers must also partake and ensure better collection rates and enhanced recycling in order to incorporate sustainability and fight climate change. In lieu of that, Bolder Industries, Black Bear Carbons, and others have risen to the occasion and have been going from strength to strength towards setting up recovered Carbon Black facilities.
The prime challenge in order to recover Carbon Black from ELTs has been the dominant presence of mineral ash in the Carbon Black, which is added during the tire manufacturing as additives to reinforce further and blend Carbon Black. However, in 2021, on behalf of RCB Nanotechnologies GmbH from Munich, researchers at Fraunhofer IBP in Valley, Germany, developed a process to demineralize the recovered Carbon Black. As per researchers at Fraunhofer IBP, the recovered Carbon Black from their demineralization process will be free of any mineral residue and can be employed in tire manufacturing without using any virgin Carbon Black.
Earlier, around 10% of the recovered Carbon Black could be used in tire manufacturing; however, after the above demineralization process, recovered Carbon Black can completely replace the primary material, researchers quoted. The other advantage that demineralization possesses is the extraction of high-quality minerals which can be reused in industrial applications.
There has been no active recovered Carbon Black plant in operations, although efforts are being made to build a recycling Carbon Black plant. One pilot plant with a reactor volume of 200 liters has been in operation at Fraunhofer IBP in Valley. RCB Nanotechnologies GmbH are the patentees of the process and the exclusive licensee. The company has already set the wheels in motion for further scaling up; as per the company sources, the production hall is already built, and the reactor volume for one production line is expected to be around 4000 liters. The whole process will produce 400 kgs of recycled Carbon Black from the ash, which will equate to 2500 tons annually. The company also proposes a final expansion which is to build a complete plant with a production capacity of 30 KTPA.
Black Bear Carbon B.V is another key market participant who has been instrumental in bringing sustainability to Carbon Black manufacturing. In Aug 2021, Black bear and HELM AG announced cooperation toward long-term supply chain and marketing recovered Carbon Black. Black Bear Carbon will produce 12 KTPA of recovered Carbon Black, and the flagship plant will be built in Chemelot Industrial Park, Geleen, the Netherlands. Both companies seek to start production and marketing of recovered Carbon Black by H2 of 2023.
As per Black Bear Carbon estimations, the flagship plant will be a sustainable alternative that will reduce over 65,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Bolder Industries has also been gaining prominence with their trademarked product BolderBlack, and the company claims that BolderBlack is a perfect replacement that can replace petroleum-derived Carbon Black as a reinforcing agent and additive in plastics. BolderBlack has been produced from 100% post-consumer or post-industrial tires and rubber scrap, the company claims. As per Bolder industries, the recovered Carbon Black production will reduce water usage by 90% and will emit 90+% fewer emissions in comparison to virgin Carbon Black.
NEUMAN & ESSER Group has been a leading technology producer in the world and has been working towards value addition in recovered Carbon Black. Processed rCB is more than 20 times more valuable than unprocessed rCB. In their quest towards value addition, NEUMAN & ESSER process technology which offers ICX impact classifier mill. The ICX system gives superior grinding and classifying results by providing desired fineness and has been proven to work in different operational conditions signifying the adaptability of the system. As per NEUMAN & ESSER, the recovered Carbon Black can reduce the carbon footprint by more than 80%.
The Recovered Carbon Black Congress held in Berlin (2019) classifies recovered Carbon Black as a new material, then being a one-to-one substitute for virgin Carbon Black. The classification is necessary as rCB is a heterogenous material varying in ash content, particle size, morphology, surface chemistry, and activity and also contains more than one grade of virgin Carbon Black, which further vindicates its classification.
In conclusion, the increasing degree of purification of recovered Carbon Black and rising acceptance and usage in industries, along with the growing need for classification of rCB, have paved the way for the incorporation of rCB into tire manufacturing, paints & coatings, and automotive and allied industries. MARKOchem learned in conducted research that 10-20% of rCB/CB blends might be used in most rubber applications, implying ample space for increased blending as the rCB increased in purification and gained consistency in performance. Recycling tires has remained in a backseat during the talks of the Recycling economy; however, now is the opportune moment to look more closely towards recycling tires to produce sustainable drop-in fuels, circular chemicals, and, most importantly, high-purity recovered Carbon Black.