'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.”







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.



Lehigh Technologies Gets 2015 Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer Award

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. April 2015

Earlier this month, Atlanta-based Lehigh Technologies, a specialty materials and additives company, was awarded the 2015 Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer award. The award is in recognition for the ten-year old company’s innovations in commercializing a range of micronized rubber powders (MRP) from end-of-life tires that are used as additives in plastics and as raw materials in a range of other markets such as new tires and asphalt. MRP reportedly can reduce feedstock costs by 30% or more, while delivering equivalent or improved performance and an improved sustainability profile.


This award recognizes the top 10 companies globally that are revolutionizing the field of clean energy technology and innovation. Nominees are judged based on the potential to scale the technology, the originality of the technology and business model, as well as momentum and ability to grow the company. Judges include industry pros from U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and BP Alternative Energy North America. 


Last September, the company got an extra boost in its investor base with the closing of an $8-million strategic financing round to support the company’s geographic expansion and technology roadmap. JSR Corp., a $4-billion specialty chemicals company, participated in this latest round of financing, joining existing investors Leaf Clean Energy; Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers; Index Ventures; and Florida Gulfshore Capital. The company has already made significant inroads into markets outside the United States, but this latest round of financing gives it additional resources to drive growth in Europe and Asia, according to Dr. Alan Barton, CEO of Lehigh Technologies. “Commercial sales of MRP have been growing rapidly—over the past few years alone, we’ve demonstrated annual growth rates of over 25 percent,” he notes.


Within the plastics arena, MRP has been getting broader play, starting with PP and PE in a variety of applications, from industrial piping to consumer storage solutions to automotive components.  In its collaborative efforts with industry partners, the company has also shown its MRP products to be effective in nylon systems and other engineering resins. MRP can reportedly lower the part cost, increase throughput and reduce energy consumption in applications using either prime resins or blends with recycle content.  The company also offers masterbatches for easy introduction in the process, eliminating the need to handle micron-scale powders in high-throughput molding operations.  


Among processors who have been benefiting from Lehigh Technologies’ products is a manufacturer of pallets who also supplies the resin compounds used to make them. Both pallets and pellets contain MRP blended with PP. In addition to making a significant impact on the company’s footprint, company officials cite unbeatable cost and performance.  Yet another is septic tank maker Infiltrator Systems. For over four years, the company has been using MRP with industrial PP regrind to make their distribution chambers and has found it to be an excellent extender—effectively allowing them to reduce the amount of the higher-priced PP required for these injection molded parts.  Other benefits cited include an improved balance of impact strength and flexural modulus, better surface finish and improved variability of the regrind used.    




'Sustainable,Renewable' Materials Get Plenty of Attention At NPE2015

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 2. April 2015


Suppliers of biopolymers, such as MHG, and others who have bio-based raw material content and recycling content in their product offerings, such as DAK Americas, Charlotte, N.C., were among the several material suppliers at NPE2015 who saw plenty of action.


            MHG (Meridian Holdings Group) reported an “astounding level of positive response” at the big show, where it showcased its new generation of patented biopolymers based on PHA, as well as services such as R&D and toll manufacturing for bio-based materials the company now offers to business partners. This included the launch of a new website—, which provides all this information.


“These are exciting times for us, and I’m overwhelmed by the enthusiastic responses by so many people who are excited about the potential of MHG’s groundbreaking technology,” says, Dr. Isao Noda, CSO of MHG and the “father” of Nodax PHA. The company showed two new videos: “Canola Dreams”, which showed MHG’s canola fields, now in full bloom and soon to be harvested. The locally grown plants serve as the feedstock for Nodax PHA at the company’s Bainbridge, Ga., facility; and, one that revealed MHG’s latest developments, including the fact that it is one of the few biotech companies in the world to achieve almost 100% eco-compatibility for biopolymers that can be made at a global-scale capacity, yet leave a significantly lower carbon footprint.


Meanwhile, a discussion with John Cullen, director of sales & marketing at PET supplier DAK revealed that the company forsees the production of 100% bio-based PET within the next five years on a smaller scale and totally within the next 10-15 years. The company currently offers grades with 30% biobased ethylene glycol content as well as grades with 20% post-consumer recycle content.


“Four years ago, we started our work on producing paraxylene from by-products of plant-based materials and have shown that its performance is equal to that of petrochemical-based paraxylene. We have had inquiries here at the show, for 100% bio-based PET from food packaging thermoformers primarily. We are preparing to make 100% bio-based PET, which will be 100% recyclable as is the case with current virgin PET.”  In terms of PCR recycle content, Cullen notes that 25-30% is the highest resin suppliers can go without adversely affecting processability.  


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

High-Flow, Low-Density TPEs For Automotive Debut

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 27. March 2015

Aiming at a variety of automotive applications such as cup holders, air-guide systems, window seals is Kraiburg TPE, Duluth, Ga., which launched at NPE2015 new custom high-flow TPEs. They are said to allow for filling the mold cavity with even pressure, resulting in consistent gloss on the show surface of the part. Compared to other TPEs, TPVs and PVC, the Kraiburg TPE’s are said to typically increase the molder’s profitability because they yield reduced cycle time, reduced scrap, and are easier to process.


In addition, the high-flow TPEs are formulated to have less off gassing than competitive grades, which enables the process to run longer without having to have the mold cavity surface cleaned—a major cost advantage. In addition, these grades have very low specific gravity—generally 0.93 g/cc, while commonly used PVC has a typical density of 1.40 g/cc. Using these densities, in a typical design for rear quarter light window, these TPEs have been shown to offer a vehicle weight savings of 0.63 lbs.


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


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