AP-42, CH 6.1: Carbon Black

6.1 Carbon Black

6.1.1 Process Description

Carbon black is produced by the reaction of a hydrocarbon fuel such as oil or gas with a limited supply of combustion air at temperatures of 1320 to 1540°C (2400 to 2800°F). The unburned carbon is collected as an extremely fine black fluffy particle, 10 to 500 nanometers (nm) in diameter. The principal uses of carbon black are as a reinforcing agent in rubber compounds (especially tires) and as a black pigment in printing inks, surface coatings, paper, and plastics. Two major processes are presently used in the United States to manufacture carbon black, the oil furnace process and the thermal process. The oil furnace process accounts for about 90 percent of production, and the thermal, about 10 percent. Two others, the lamp process for production of lamp black and the cracking of acetylene to produce acetylene black, are each used at 1 plant in the U. S. However, these are small-volume specialty black operations that constitute less than 1 percent of total production in this country. The gas furnace process is being phased out, and the last channel black plant in the U. S. was closed in 1976.

6.1.1.1 Oil Furnace Process

In the oil furnace process (Figure 6.1-1 and Table 6.1-1), an aromatic liquid hydrocarbon feedstock is heated and injected continuously into the combustion zone of a natural gas-fired furnace, where it is decomposed to form carbon black. Primary quench water cools the gases to 500°C (1000°F) to stop the cracking. The exhaust gases entraining the carbon particles are further cooled to about 230°C (450°F) by passage through heat exchangers and direct water sprays. The black is then separated from the gas stream, usually by a fabric filter. A cyclone for primary collection and particle agglomeration may precede the filter. A single collection system often serves several manifolded furnaces. The recovered carbon black is finished to a marketable product by pulverizing and wet pelletizing to increase bulk density. Water from the wet pelletizer is driven off in a gas-fired rotary dryer. Oil or
process gas can be used. From 35 to 70 percent of the dryer combustion gas is charged directly to the interior of the dryer, and the remainder acts as an indirect heat source for the dryer. The dried pellets are then conveyed to bulk storage. Process yields range from 35 to 65 percent, depending on the feed composition and the grade of black produced. Furnace designs and operating conditions determine the particle size and the other physical and chemical properties of the black. Generally, yields are highest for large particle blacks and lowest for small particle blacks.

6.1.1.2 Thermal Process

The thermal process is a cyclic operation in which natural gas is thermally decomposed (cracked) into carbon particles, hydrogen, and a mixture of other organics. Two furnaces are used in normal operation. The first cracks natural gas and makes carbon black and hydrogen. The effluent gas from the first reactor is cooled by water sprays to about 125°C (250°F), and the black is collected in a fabric filter. The filtered gas (90 percent hydrogen, 6 percent methane, and 4 percent higher hydrocarbons) is used as a fuel to heat a second reactor. When the first reactor becomes too cool to crack the natural gas feed, the positions of the reactors are reversed, and the second reactor is used to crack the gas while the first is heated. Normally, more than enough hydrogen is produced to make the thermal black process self-sustaining, and the surplus hydrogen is used to fire boilers that supply process steam and electric power.

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