Reflections of Chongqing
I have just returned home from the Carbon Black China 2010 conference held in Chongqing, China on April 18-21. This is a very well organized and comprehensive conference, and I owe a particular debt of gratitude to the generosity and hospitality of the hosts, the China Carbon Black Institute. The conference program focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the Chinese industry, but the scope of the discussion spread well beyond the country’s borders to the global industry as well. With China now accounting for some 32% of global carbon black output, the fate of the Chinese industry is intertwined with that of the global industry. This was one of the major findings of my keynote address to the conference.
The conference served as a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the modern carbon black industry in China, and speakers addressed in detail both the accomplishments of the past as well as the challenges of the future, not only for the carbon black sector but also for rubber and silica. One impressive statistic presented by the China Carbon Black Institute detailed the steady progress that the Chinese industry has made with regard to yields: in 1977, the Chinese industry consumed on average 2.74 tonnes of feedstock to produce a ton of N330, but by 2008, the industry consumed just 1.68 tonnes of feedstock per tonne of N330. Similar improvements were made in regard to water consumption as well as steam and power generation.
There has been a similar evolution in terms of plant ownership: over the last ten years, the Chinese carbon black industry has shifted from being dominated by state-owned enterprises, which typically were inefficient and featured outdated equipment and technology, to a combination of privately-owned and foreign-owned joint ventures. This influx of new ownership has brought more advanced production technology, as well as improvements in material handling, product branding, etc. Still, the operating rate of the Chinese industry remains well below the global average, and more work is required to either shut down or improve the industry’s smaller, less efficient producers. Other challenges include product quality issues and feedstock shortages. I would recommend that anyone interested in the industry purchase the conference proceedings.
Photo: Sakyamuni in Nirvana (No. 11, the Southern Song Dynasty), part of the Dazu Rock Carvings dating from as early of the 7th century. A day trip organized by the conference.