'Clean, Sustainable' Carbon Black Production On Our Shores

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 24. April 2015



Throughout most of the 20th century, North America was the leading producer of carbon black. By 2012, North American capacity had dropped to a mere 12% of the global capacity, while China’s had risen to 38%. One company is looking to shift the production of carbon black from being less reliant on the utilization of petroleum oil; first, in the domestic market and then globally. In fact, Monolith Materials (formerly Boxer Industries) believes that its proprietary process technology has the potential to reestablish North America as the leading global producer of carbon black.


The Redwood City, California firm produces both standard ASTM grades of carbon black as well as highly customized performance grades for a broad range of applications. In plastics alone, these range from colorants in consumer and industrial goods to UV absorbers in pipe and agricultural films to electrically conductive grades used in electrical cables and various components of high-volume consumer electronics. Carbon blacks have long been used as reinforcing agents and fillers in tires and other rubber products, batteries, and as pigments in inks, paints and toner.  


Monolith uses natural gas as feedstock in its process instead of crude oil or coal-tar as in conventional processes. Since mid-2014, the company has been operating a pilot plant using its technology to convert pipeline grade natural gas using grid electricity into valuable carbon black and hydrogen. Located at its Redwood City site, the Seaport Plant serves as Monolith’s industrial demonstration facility and represents the first new carbon black plant to be permitted and build in the U.S. in the past 30 years, because of environmental regulations. On-site lab facilities also allow for grade evaluation and tuning, as well as ongoing applications development.


As noted above, a coproduct of Monolith’s manufacturing process is plentiful hydrogen. This valuable industrial gas is used in a range of industries including petroleum refining, clean-power generation, and chemicals. It was this that led to Monolith establishing what appears to be a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), Nebraska’s largest electric utility. NPPD plans to replace an existing coal-fired boiler at its Sheldon Station plant in Hallam, Nebraska with one that will use hydrogen, produced by Monolith’s new full-scale carbon black manufacturing facility, to generate electricity.


Construction of Monolith’s facility is commencing this year, with initial production capacity scheduled online in 2016, and full production capacity on line in 2019. It is being build adjacent to the Sheldon Station so NPPD can easily access the hydrogen. When burned, the hydrogen fuel produces zero greenhouse gas emissions. Through this collaborative project, NPPD is expected to reduce CO2 emissions at Sheldon Station by 1.1 million tons/yr. The new boiler, using hydrogen as a fuel, will continue to be capable of generating 125 megawatts of electricity for NPPD’s customers. The conversion is also expected to result in a dramatic reduction in other types of air emissions, and also aid in NPPD’s maintaining service as a low-cost energy producer.


The facility will result in hundreds of new high-tech manufacturing jobs in that region. In their joint announcement, Pat Pope, president and CEO of NPPD noted that the Sheldon Station has always been “a place of firsts”—the first nuclear plant in Nebraska and now the first utility-scale hydrogen powered generator. Said Monolith’s co-founder and CCO Robert Hanson, “Together, Monolith and NPPD are helping reduce pollution, while still adding jobs and maintaining energy production. Additionally, Monolith is bringing the first cleanly made carbon black plant to the U.S., which will help our country grow this important industry and expand America’s manufacturing economy.”







Tiebarless Training in Tennessee

By: Tony Deligio 24. April 2015

The 85-ton tiebarless Engel victory spex and 110-ton all-electric machines were installed at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Pulaski as part of its revamped Advanced Manufacturing Program that’s busy readying workers for the region’s booming automotive sector.


GM, Nissan, and Volkswagen all build cars in the state, supported by parts suppliers like Denso, Calsonic Kansei, Yorozu Automotive, and M-Tek, with more companies on the way.


In the first quarter alone, Denso, Unipres USA Inc., Nissan, Magneti Marelli, and Hicks Plastics announced  investments in the state, which according to the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association (TAMA), employs 115,939 in auto manufacturing jobs with more than 1000 auto manufacturers and suppliers statewide.


To help those companies fill out their shifts, Tennessee has spent more than $80 million in automotive industry training since 2006, according to TAMA. Receiving a portion of that money is the TCAT Pulaski. Located in South Central Tennessee, Pulaski sits 75 miles south of Nashville and only 20 miles from the Alabama border.


TCAT Pulaski is one of 26 applied technology centers in Tennessee, part of a statewide system created in 1963. The centers’ Advanced Manufacturing Education offers students three career paths: robotics automation, PLC automation, and plastics injection molding, and students that complete the program are awarded an engineering technician diploma. The plastics engineering technician certificate is comprised of three labs and an internship/shop project totaling 1296 hours.


Dino Owen, Advanced Manufacturing Education (AME) Instructor at TCAT Pulaski, told Plastics Technology that the two new Engel’s will replace a hydraulic Nissei that had been used in training for 12 years. Owen said at this time there are 17 students in the AME program, with 10 of those on the injection molding track.


A recent lesson for those 10: molding machine installation. Owen said the students assisted in rigging, leveling, and wiring the machines for their initial start up. The 85-ton press, which was purchased, and the 110-ton machine, which is on loan, will now ready those students for the molding world around them.


“Thanks to the governor’s grant we received, our equipment was updated and technology advanced to meet employment needs of local business,” Owen said. “Students feel they are working with state-of-the-art equipment, which closely matches equipment used by growing companies within 100-mile radius.”


Owen said that all students must complete hands-on projects focusing on areas like injection speed, transfer, pressure, temperature, and cycle optimization. In addition, students working towards the Injection Molding Masters Diploma, also study tool and die technology, including practice building insert molds, with draft angles, vents, waterlines, part design, and more taught as they cut their molds.


Owen said in the program students build their molds in aluminum, with a recent project calling for 3D printing of a simple cavity. “Our record thus far is 20 parts from a plastic 3D-printed cavity,” Owen said.


Partnering on behalf of plastics training isn’t new for Engel, which over the last three years has also set up machines at Bradley University (2013: 30-ton hybrid e-victory), Clemson University (2014: 30-ton victory); and Nypro University (2015: 105-ton e-mac). Its efforts, and those of programs like TCAT, come at a time of need for the U.S. plastics industry.


“Our goal is to help bridge the skills gap that manufacturing is experiencing,” Owen said. “I feel the 27 TCATs’ statewide are the best match for student and business to achieve this goal.”

Price Hikes On Nylon 66 and 6 Underway?

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 23. April 2015

Domestic price increases for nylons 66 and 6 emerged before mid-April, but driven by different factors. Supply constriction is the issue in the case of nylon 66, whereas nylon 6 suppliers attribute their increases on higher raw material costs. The timing and degree of implementation of these increases remains to be seen.


The supply issue for nylon 66 and its intermediates was brought on by a force majeure action by Invista—now ranked as one of the largest suppliers of nylon 66 resins and compounds in the world. The company reported a ‘chemical function issue’ at its Victoria, Texas facility as the reason for implementing supply allocations on nylon 66 as well as adiponitrile (ADN) and hexamethylene diamine (HMD) salts.


In its official statement the company noted that its representatives would be keeping its customers updated on amounts and rough estimates for timing of supply allocations. “We are working diligently to resolve the issue without compromising our relentless commitment to compliance, safety and the environment,” the statement said.


Industry experts concede that disruptions at any nylon 66 intermediate production facilities are likely to have a significant market impact because there are not many nylon 66 players, and all of the production facilities are on the larger scale. In our April issue’s Resin Pricing Analysis, Mark Kallman, v.p. of client services for engineering resins, PS, and PVC, at Resin Technologies, Inc. (RTi), described the nylon 66 market as a bit more balanced and not as competitive as nylon 6, which is more of a “commodity” resin. He also describes demand as fairly good, particularly in automotive, and expects to see an improvement over 2014.


Moreover, Kallman ventured the nylon 66 pricing trend to be flat-to-lower, as suppliers have continued to expand their profit margins due to lower feedstock costs. The unplanned Invista production issue may change this projection, at least for a time. So far, one supplier has announced a price increase--15ȼ/lb, effective May 1.


Meanwhile, a 7ȼ/lb price increase on nylon 6 has been issued by BASF--effective April 15, and by DSM--effective May 1, or as contracts allow. The latter cited increasing raw material prices as the reason for its action, and noted the following in its announcement, “While DSM continues to pursue and implement cost savings initiatives targeted at absorbing the impact of the raw material escalations, this additional increase is necessary to ensure DSM’s sustainable long-term position as leading supplier of engineering plastics.”


RTi’s Kallman estimates that nylon 6 prices have dropped around 5-10% from late third quarter 2014 through first quarter 2015, due to both a sharp drop in benzene prices and lower prices of other raw materials as well as ample capacity. He ventured that second-quarter pricing is likely to be flat to higher, driven by feedstock cost increases (e.g., the trajectory for benzene prices appears to be reversing), and some improvement in demand.


Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastic Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.



Slideshow: Plastics Personnel Moves

22. April 2015

Plastics people are on the move at suppliers and processors, see all the latest moves in our Plastics Personnel slideshow

New system recycles plastic waste into 3D-printed filament for use in space

By: Heather Caliendo 21. April 2015

So here’s a story that combines three very cool things: 3D printing, recycling plastic waste and space. NASA has announced that its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program has selected Tethers Unlimited Inc. (TUI, Bothell, WA, US) to develop a "Positrusion" recycling system for the International Space Station (ISS) and future deep-space manned missions. The Positrusion recycler will convert plastic waste into high-quality 3D printer filament for use in making tools, replacement parts and satellite components onboard the ISS.  


TUI’s patent-pending Positrusion system uses what the company says is “novel techniques to process plastic into very high-quality filament for 3D printers.”


"Positrusion is a new approach to making 3D printer feedstock that produces filament with much more consistent diameter and density than traditional extrusion processes," said Jesse Cushing, TUI's principal investigator for the Positrusion effort.  "That consistency will improve the quality of tools and other parts produced by 3D printers on the station."


It’s not just for space—TUI also sees significant potential for use of the Positrusion system in recycling plastic waste in the consumer market.  "For a recycler to be useful on the ISS, it has to meet stringent safety requirements, and its design needs to minimize the amount of time an astronaut must spend operating it," said Jeffrey Slostad, TUI's chief engineer.  "So we designed the Positrusion recycler to be as safe and simple to operate as a microwave oven, and we believe a consumer version of this machine will be ideal for recycling household and office waste."


Rob Hoyt, TUI's CEO and Chief Scientist, said that the company’s long-term goal is to create the capability to construct the habitats, spacecraft and other infrastructure necessary for exploration and settlement of the solar system using raw material launched from Earth as well as resources available in the space environment.


The company is developing an ecosystem of additive manufacturing technologies to make this possible, including 3D-printed “Versatile Structural Radiation Shielding” (VSRS), Structural Multi-Layer Insulation (S-MLI) and its Trusselator and SpiderFab technologies for fabricating key satellite components such as antennas and solar arrays.  


“The Positrusion technology is an important part of this ecosystem, providing a way to process materials that would otherwise be thrown away into valuable feedstock for our in-space additive manufacturing systems,” he said.


First items ever manufactured in space with a 3D printer

This news comes on the heels of the recent reveal of the first items manufactured in space with a 3D printer. The items were unboxed on April 6 in the Additive Manufacturing Laboratory at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.


The items were manufactured as part of the 3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration on the space station to show that additive manufacturing can make a variety of parts and tools in space. In-space manufacturing technologies like 3D printing will help NASA explore Mars, asteroids and other locations.


To make the items, the printer heated a relatively low-temperature plastic filament to build parts, layer on top of layer, in designs supplied to the machine. The printer remains on aboard the station for continued use later this year.


The printer used 14 different designs and built a total of 21 items and some calibration coupons. The parts returned to Earth in February on the SpaceX Dragon. They were then delivered to Marshall where the testing to compare the ground controls to the flight parts will be conducted. Before the printer was launched to the space station, it made an identical set of parts. Now, materials engineers will put both the space samples and ground control samples literally under a microscope and through a series of tests. Project engineers will perform durability, strength and structural tests on both sets of printed items and even put them und an electron microscope to scan for differences in the objects.


To build and operate the printer, NASA worked with Made In Space Inc., a northern California company that is building the next-generation printer that will be operated on the station. This printer will be available to both commercial and government users.

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