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Published: June 2011
The leading application for carbon black is as a reinforcing agent in the production of rubber goods, accounting for more than 90% of total carbon black consumption. In 2010, use in tires accounted for 73% of world consumption, with other rubber goods (hoses, belts, etc.) accounting for an additional 19%; consumption for nonrubber goods (plastics, inks, paints, etc.) accounted for the remaining 8% of world consumption. While specialty carbon blacks account for only 7% of the total market in tonnage, they command a significantly higher selling price than commodity furnace black, and thus will be the focus of future research and development activities.
The price of crude oil has an overriding influence on carbon black markets by affecting such factors as the cost of carbon black, type of vehicles sold and total miles driven, and even tire design (e.g., high performance tires, super-abrasion-resistant tread stock and the "green" tire).
The following pie chart shows world consumption of carbon black:
Asia (excluding Japan) is currently the largest producer and consumer of carbon black, accounting for 55% of global production and consumption in 2010, with China accounting for nearly half of total Asian consumption. Most of the new capacity scheduled to come onstream over the next five years will be in Asia, with China leading the way.
The growth of carbon black is closely tied to the automotive industry and the production of tires. With the global automobile industry moving to China, India and Eastern Europe, the tire industry has followed, and with it the carbon black producers. (The availability of natural rubber in Southeast Asia is also a factor in the tire industry's investment pattern.) Stringent environmental laws are forcing the closure of some older carbon black capacity in developed regions, so much of the future investment will be taking place in developing economies.
There is a continuing long-term trend toward concentration and consolidation among suppliers of carbon black. Petroleum companies have exited the business, and it is now dominated by chemical companies for whom carbon black is a core product. All major producers are global in the scope of their operations. The four largest producers are Cabot Corporation, Evonik Industries, Columbian Chemicals, and China Synthetic Rubber Corp.
Asia, excluding Japan, will be the fastest-growing region in the world, followed by Central and Eastern Europe. China and India, in particular, will have the greatest gains, as a result of the continued expansion of their motor vehicle and tire industries.