Specialty Silicas Ride the Green Tire Boom.(J.M. Huber Corp. manufactures 'green' tires)(Brief Article)(Statistical Data Included) Chemical Market Reporter, Oct 22, 2001, by Ivan Lerner
ENVIRONMENTAL and fuel concerns are driving the green tires market, and with it, some segments of the specialty silicas market.
Although popular in Europe, green tires have yet to make significant headway into the US. However, "it's just a matter of time before green tires win a substantial share of the US tire market," says Larry Evans, technical manager for rubber of Huber Engineered Materials, a division of the J.M. Huber Corp. "They have proven their value in Europe through improved fuel economy and better traction.. .and lower emissions."
Introduced by Michelin in 1992, green tire technology uses highly dispersible silica (HDS) instead of carbon black in its formulation. The average tire contains about a kilogram of HDS, says Mr. Evans.
Green tires have become the standard first mount for passenger cars in Europe, and Western Europe's annual consumption of precipitated silica has climbed from zero in 1992 to 100,000 tons in 1999. The European market for precipitated silica is growing at a rate of about 10 percent annually, versus only 4 percent for the world as a whole, says a Rhodia official. The European tire market has standardized on green tires for at least five years, originally in order to save on fuel costs. Today, says Mr. Evans, 100 percent of European OEM tires contain some form of silica filler.
On a global basis, the current precipitated silicas market is approaching 800,000 metric tons, nearly 60 percent of which is consumed in rubber goods, notes Todd Harris, an analyst with the Little Falls, N.J.-based consultancy Kline & Co. Manufactured rubber goods, which includes footwear, and industrial rubber products, such as belts and hoses, make up a little over 50 percent of this volume in the rubber sector. Tire products, including green tires, comprise the balance.
Several companies have recently made expansions in their capabilities to produce materials for green tires. In late March, W.R. Grace acquired the precipitated silicas business of Akzo-PQ Silica, a joint venture of Akzo Nobel and PQ, for an undisclosed sum. The silicas are supplied to the European market for use as additives in paints, paper and rubber compounds, including green tires.
"Precipitated silicas...is by far the largest segment of specialty silicas," says a Grace representative. The market is $800 million to $1 billion a year, he says. The largest precipitated silicas players, accounting for about 75 percent of the market, are Degussa, Rhodia, PPG and J.M. Huber.
In July, Degussa's precipitated silica project in Wesseling, Germany, an [pound]80 million ($68 million) investment to expand the 240,000 metric ton per year plant, is already paying off, says the company, with two new products. Sipernat 2200, a microgranulated silica is used as a dust-free carrier in the food and feed industry and in plant protection systems, and Ultrasil 7005 is a highly dispersible silica for the rubber industry.
In September, Dow Corning started up a new $11 million, 16,000-metric-ton-per-year organosilanic unit in Midland, Mich. The company says that the investment was in response to market demand. "We are making gains in the green tire segment through new products, and this capacity provides the opportunity to capture a significant share of that market," says a Dow representative. ...