Activated carbon markets are on the brink of an enormous change. The next four years could see world consumption almost double according to a new report from Roskill. Enough new production capacity should be in place by 2017 to meet new demand, but the potential exists for a shortfall to develop. The report quantifies Roskill's supply and demand predictions to 2017.
On 19 January 2013, international negotiators also concluded a new global mercury control treaty, which will be signed in Japan in October 2013. The treaty includes commitments to undertake measures that will reduce airborne mercury emissions. Most of the steps outlined in the treaty will be taken by 2020 by the 140 UN member countries involved. As a tribute to thousands of Japanese victims of the Minamata mercury pollution tragedy of the last century, the treaty will be named the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
Activated carbon injection systems are the dominant control technology to address mercury emissions in 2013. The global mercury control treaty to be signed in October 2013 is expected to prompt new mercury control legislation in other UN member countries. Demand for activated carbon is expected to increase further in response to these new rules over the following five year period, 2017 to 2022. Increasingly stringent environmental regulations in the European Union, China and India are also expected to raise demand for activated carbon to 2017. Roskill's report segments consumption forecasts by geography and by end-use.
Activated carbon prices increased steadily during the five year period 2007 to 2012 and have never been higher. The initial increase coincided with the almost simultaneous imposition of import duties by the US government and lifting of export incentives by the Chinese government, but it was perpetuated by a number of other factors described in the report. The next five year period, 2012 to 2017, is expected to see prices rise again.
Activated carbon is a unique and effective agent for purification and for isolation and recovery of trace materials. It can be thought of as "space enclosed by carbon atoms". A single gramme of activated carbon makes over 1,200m2 (or three tennis courts) of surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions.
These unique properties make activated carbon suitable for a wide range of gas- and liquid-based applications. Roskill details more than 65 individual end-uses in its 2013 analysis. These range from nuclear protection clothing to cigarette filters, and from gold mining to pharmaceuticals.
Many of the major sources of demand for activated carbon are a response to legislation. In view of the upcoming increases in demand in response to MATS, producers have announced a number of new projects, which are described in detail in Roskill's report, with predictions given for future supply. In June 2012, shortly after the MATS rule became effective, it was announced that Cabot Corporation, a global speciality chemicals and performance materials company headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, had entered into an agreement to acquire Norit NV of the Netherlands for a purchase price of US$1.1Bn. Founded in 1918, Norit is the world's largest producer of activated carbon. The acquisition was finalised on 31 July 2012, and the acquired business was organised as a new business segment of Cabot; Purification Solutions.
Raw materials' availability is an issue generally for this industry with the ratio of raw material to finished activated carbon product approaching 3:1. Coconut shell-based producers have been plagued by erratic coconut shell charcoal availability, while potential metallurgical coal shortages could continue to affect activated carbon production in China. Activated carbon is a by-product, which means that coal (or coconut, or wood) producers do not make production decisions based on the market for activated carbon in isolation. During 2012 activated carbon prices and producer share prices achieved record highs. In this report, Roskill examines future supply and demand trends to see if those highs will continue.