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How Plastics Industry Trends Drive Development of New Carbon Blacks: An Interview with Birla Carbon

SpecialChem – May 13, 2020

TAGS:  Additives for Packaging      Carbon Black    

Dr Deepak TandonWe interviewed Dr. Deepak Tandon of Birla Carbon to understand how plastics industry trends are driving the development of new carbon black solutions as well as what has been the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s related segments. In his current role as Global Segment Director – Plastics, he is responsible for identifying customer challenges and requirements and initiate the related development work at Birla Carbon.

Birla Carbon is one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of high-quality carbon black additives globally, and a flagship business of the US $48.3 billion Aditya Birla Group. Birla Carbon is proud to pursue a constant cycle of innovation and evolution.

Let’s hear from him…

1. What are the trends in plastics applications that are impacting carbon black use and developments?

DT: Carbon black is used in plastics for color, UV protection and conductivity. Infrastructure, automotive and packaging are key drivers for carbon black in the plastics industry.

With the growing population and industrialization in developing economies, there is greater spending from the governments to provide infrastructure to support this growth. There is a growing demand for transmission power cables and pressure pipe applications.

The strict performance requirements and liabilities in these sub-sectors demand a very high quality of carbon blacks. The industry is always on the lookout for better-performing products, such as higher levels of chemical and physical cleanliness or the ability to meet regulatory requirements. However, adaption and approval times can be long.

Light weighting is another trend that affects carbon black. The push for improved fuel economy and hence reduction in carbon footprint, is prompting the automotive industry to look at plastics as metal substitutes for weight reduction. The automotive industry is also looking continuously for deeper, shinier black parts to add higher value to their products. They often talk about “piano blacks” for rich, luxurious finishes in automotive interiors.

Car interiors are also showing more jet-black components 

Finally, the trend for a growing middle class in developing countries, especially in Asia, drives an increase in consumer spending, and this is further fueling growth in consumer products like electronics and household appliances. This consumer demand is also growing the plastics packaging industry, especially PET and PE, as people move from local market shopping to supermarkets.

Several countries have strict guidelines for plastics going into the food industry. Certain components in plastics parts can breakdown upon heating, washing, etc. and hence the regulatory bodies have strict guidelines for material used in such applications. For carbon blacks, a very critical element is the content of poly aromatic hydrocarbons, commonly known as PAH content. The US FDA has the strictest guidelines for indirect food-contact applications.

Birla Carbon makes Raven FC1, which is compliant with FDA regulation of 21CFR 178.3297. The European Union and other regions and countries have different regulations for indirect food and skin-contact applications. We have several products that meet these special requirements.

Food contact plastic packaging 

2. What are the biggest (performance) challenges that material designers face for these demanding applications?

DT: Since the majority of customers are selling color, dispersion is the key challenge. Last year in a webinar, we discussed:

  • The topic of color development in high jetness plastics
  • The importance of carbon black selection, and 
  • The processing parameters to achieve the best dispersion

For high color applications, not only macro but also micro-dispersion is important. Sub-optimum dispersion may result in loss of undertone development, which means a reddish tone instead of the desired blue tone.

High Jetness Plastics Webinar

3. How is Birla Carbon adapting to meet these needs?

DT: Working with our process and product technology groups, we are developing unique carbon black morphologies and production processes that are helping us make products that are easier to disperse while also being chemically cleaner.

Our technical business teams work closely with our customers to jointly develop solutions to their current and potential problems. We are not only developing solutions with new products but are also helping customers achieve desired performance with existing products by working closely together to optimize their formulations and processes.

4. Can you share more about your new products launched this year?

Raven Carbon Black by Birla Carbon DT: Recently, we have developed a portfolio of high color blacks in our Korea plant. These products have seen tremendous acceptance in the market, especially for engineering plastics applications. These include:

We have also developed some fit-for-purpose film blacks in the Americas. In the very near future, we will be introducing next-generation blacks for synthetic fiber and “piano black” applications.

5. Where does Birla Carbon stand on their sustainability initiatives today?

EcoVadis RatingDT: Birla Carbon is the oldest carbon black company, and this is the best testament for our sustainable operations. Our resilience is again challenged during this COVID-19 period, and this is where our Sustainable Operational Excellence (SOE) strategy demonstrates its value. The company is focused on ensuring business continuity for our customers while still ensuring the safety of our employees and business partners. We continuously adapt and invest in our environmental stewardship to use resources more efficiently and minimize our adverse impacts.

Birla Carbon was the first carbon black supplier to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment. It is now looking at the circular economy and how to reuse/recycle the product. We continue being recognized by EcoVadis, the leading sustainability rating agency, with a Gold rating for advanced sustainable practices for the fourth consecutive year. We are happy to share our sustainability practices with more details available on our website.

6. What is your 2020-21 outlook for carbon black in the plastics industry?

DT: We see the industry rebounding post COVID-19. Governments would be investing in infrastructure to boost economies. This will bring growth opportunities for:

  • Wire & cable
  • Pressure pipes, and
  • Construction

And with consumer confidence returning, this will boost the automotive and electronics industry.
Consumer Appliances and Automotive Products

7. How has COVID-19 impacted the sector/the markets you serve?

DT: COVID-19 has had a mixed impact on the markets we serve, and situations keep changing. It has had a negative impact on the automotive sector, whereas a positive impact on packaging, especially food packaging, and healthcare. Packaging and healthcare industries are considered as “essential industries” and are expected to grow during this COVID pandemic.

We have always taken pride in our customer service, and in these difficult times, we are working very closely with our customers to ensure there are no disruptions in their operations caused by raw material availability. Our focus is on quality and supply reliability.

8. Any last thoughts to share with us?

DT: We are working on some exciting products and post COVID-19, we hope to bring these to our customers and market. Our focus is on synthetic fibers and “piano blacks”. We will announce them on SpecialChem and feature them in our technology center. We also welcome any questions or requests for technical discussion. We can be reached through SpecialChem » Contact Birla Carbon.

Find out Birla Carbon's Carbon Blacks Product Range:

About Dr. Deepak Tandon

Deepak Tandon joined Birla Carbon over 20 years ago. He started his career at Columbian Chemicals (acquired by Birla Carbon in 2011) in the technology center and later moved into new product development. In 2009 he took over the role of Technology Head, Specialty Blacks. Last year he took over the role of Global Segment Director – Plastics. As part of his role, he is working on identifying current and future customer challenges and requirements and initiating the related development work at Birla Carbon.

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