The social value of carbon black

Carbon black is a fine, black powder essentially composed of elemental carbon: a highly-engineered microscopic material contained in hundreds of thousands of different products with crucial, daily uses. It plays a key role in our lives: from car tires to shoe soles, from water pipes to power lines, from newspapers to car paint. Carbon black makes our lives better.

What is carbon black?

Carbon black is virtually pure, elemental carbon in the form of colloidal particles, which are microscopic and arranged in a ‘grape-like’ form. Its physical appearance is that of a black, finely divided pellet or powder – individual particles of carbon black are invisible to the human eye. Carbon black should not be confused with black carbon, more commonly known as soot.

The size of the particles and the way they are aggregated provide specific properties to the carbon black and define its use. For example, a large particle-sized, ‘soft’ carbon black grade will contribute to the elasticity of the tire sidewalls, while a small particle-sized, ‘hard’ carbon black grade will be essential to ensure the durability of the tire’s tread.

What are its uses?

Carbon black enables the every-day. It brings many properties and qualities to countless finished products and articles made from rubber or plastics, as well as providing color and protection from UV rays in a paint, ink or coating.

  • Reinforcement

    Carbon black with its affinity for various polymers makes rubber products last longer, safer and save energy over the life cycles of many products:

    • Vehicle tires
    • Shoe soles
    • Sealing systems
    • Hoses, belts, and engine mounts
    • Toys
    • Playgrounds
    • Tubeless tires
    • Inner tubes
  • Conductivity

    Carbon black is so versatile that its morphology can be engineered to modulate the electric and thermal conductivity of many products. In many applications, it also helps dissipate electrostatic build-up. Examples include:

    • Electrical cables
    • Portable energy devices
    • Computers (circuit boards)
    • Tires
    • High voltage cable jacketing
    • Safety shoes
    • Conductive flooring
  • UV Resistance

    Carbon black, with its capability to absorb light, ensures that plastics and rubber products last longer despite exposure to sunlight. Examples include:

    • High voltage cables
    • Water pipes
    • Irrigation pipes
    • Geomembranes (e.g., liners for liquid retention pools)
    • Agroplastics (e.g., mulching)
  • Pigmentation

    Carbon black is used as a pigment to produce a deeper black in the following products:

    • Car paint
    • Inks for printing newspapers, magazines, books, bank notes, etc.
    • Printer cartridges
    • Mascara
    • Black building products
    • Leather coating
    • Black fibers for fabrics, carpets, woven materials, etc.

Did you know?

  • Vehicle tires are approximately 25% carbon black. You wouldn’t be able to drive for longer than 1,000 km without it.
  • Any water facility containing piping, including those for drinking and washing, contains carbon black – as do all power cables.
  • Over 13 million tonnes of carbon black is produced worldwide annually – approximately 70% of which goes into tires.

Carbon black and you

We all interact with carbon black every day without noticing it. It enables key aspects of our lives, continuously adding value. Consider its unnoticed role in the following:

  • Movement – carbon black gives us freedom to move by making tires safer and stronger for longer.
  • Society – carbon black has a permanent presence in our lives – from the clothes and shoes we wear to the mascara we put on our eyelashes, from flowerpots to toys, from banknotes to newspapers.
  • Health – carbon black plays an important role in water transportation through plastic pipes and rubber gaskets, keeping it safe to drink and preventing leaks.
  • Food – carbon black enables more efficient agricultural practices, from irrigating to protecting crops and facilitating farming, such as liquid retention pools and mulching.
  • Power – carbon black is an essential component of the wires, computers and technology that make our lives possible and connect us.

How is carbon black made?

Carbon black is produced by thermal decomposition and pyrolysis of low-value oil residues at high temperatures under controlled process conditions. At Birla Carbon, we produce carbon black in a high temperature reactor through a tightly controlled flame-synthesis process that uses carbon-rich oil residue as feedstock and sometimes natural gas. Our carbon black has real value: it is produced through the conversion of oil residue, which otherwise would have limited uses and would have been disposed of.

Zero hunger

In its use in farming, including improved irrigation, carbon black helps more efficient agriculture.

Decent work and economic growth

Carbon black ensures greater resource efficiency, which in turn promotes economic growth.

Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Our product helps by supporting the development of quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and in the promotion of inclusive and sustainable industrialization.

Reduced inequalities

Carbon black plays an important role in technology, giving people greater access to transport and communication. It also ensures that products that it is in last longer.

Sustainable cities and communities

Carbon black is crucial in the development of safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems, particularly in terms of its role in tire safety, durability and improved rolling resistance.

Responsible consumption and production

Carbon black helps society become more efficient in its use of resources, facilitating consumption and production.

Partnerships for the goals

We help achieve the goals by working closely with our stakeholders, particularly our customers.

The carbon black manufacturing process

Our six step manufacturing process

Manufacturing Process Nav
  • Carbon extraction, refinement
    and transportation
  • Manufacturing process
  • Transportation to
    customers
  • End product
Manufacturing Process
Feedstock Oil

Feedstock oil

To begin the process, preheated air and oil (and sometimes natural gas) are fed to the reactor in tightly controlled amounts.

Reactor

Reactor

Inside the reactor, the air and hydrocarbons undergo a complex set of reactions – partial combustion, thermal decomposition, particle nucleation and particle growth/aggregation. These reactions occur in temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Celsius and can take less than 0.01 of a second.

Water injection

Water injection

Water is then injected to stop the reactions by reducing the temperature of the carbon black ‘smoke’ stream leaving the reactor.

Separation

Separation

This 'smoke' stream is then routed to a baghouse that separates the carbon black from the reactor tail gas using hundreds of fabric filter bags. The carbon black is a light, fluffy powder as it exits the baghouse and is transported to an accumulator tank.

Pellet formation

Pellet formation

The carbon black powder is mixed with a binding agent and water in a pelletizer to form pellets, which are then dried in a rotary drier. This process increases its bulk density by up to five times, allowing for more efficient transportation to our customers.

Storage and packaging

Storage and packaging

In a final step, the carbon black pellets are packaged in a variety of containers, ranging from 10 kg paper bags to 60 tonne railroad cars for transportation to our customers.