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Cancarb Completes Plant Overhaul

Our friends at Cancarb report that they recently completed a major capital project. Cancarb (Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada) is the world’s leading producer of medium thermal black, a specialty carbon black produced from natural gas feedstocks. It’s used mainly in mechanical rubber goods (for parts calling for very high elasticity and a smooth surface), plastics, metallurgy and refractories.

The project involved a complete overhaul of the steam turbine for the plant’s cogeneration unit, as well as a standard maintenance turn-around for the plant’s five carbon black units. The plant was shut down for about four weeks while the overhaul was conducted, from mid-September until mid-October. All five of the plant’s production units feed into the same turbine, though the plant’s design allows the carbon black units to be isolated so they can by-pass the turbine if needed (i.e., the carbon black plant can be operated independent of the cogen unit, though obviously the cogen unit cannot operate without the carbon black units). There was no disruption in supplies, as inventories had been built up. The project had no effect on capacity, which is 45,000 tonnes/year. The cost of the project was not released.

Cancarb’s plant is very clean — it is essentially emission free and there is no “thermal puff” from the stack that is characteristic of other thermal units. The plant became particulate-free in 2004 when Cancarb commissioned a baghouse for the stack to capture particulates. Prior to the installation of the power plant, such a baghouse would have been impossible because the tail gas temperature from the reactors was above 1,200 C, much too high for any bag material. However, the energy extracted from the tail gas stream by feeding the steam turbine lowers the tail gas temperatures to just over 100 C.

Cancarb currently has five units (each of which has two reactors), and is considering adding a sixth if market conditions warrant. These units work best in pairs, so Unit 6 was always a possibility. When Cancarb added Unit 5 in 2000, it also installed the foundations and underground duct work for Unit 6, which would add another 9,000 tonnes.

After suffering through extremely high natural gas prices in the second half of 2005, the thermal black market strengthened in 2006 and 2007. Its price relative to competitive grades of furnace black has improved, since natural gas prices have remained relatively flat while CBO prices have spiked in 2007.

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