Activated carbon markets are at the centre of a controversy surrounding the possible revision of a major US government air pollution rule by the new US administration in early 2017. The market for activated carbon in air pollution control had been reenergised in April 2016, following the US Court of Appeal's decision to keep the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) regulation in place. Roskill estimates that if all US coal-fired utilities achieved compliance with MATS, the US industry would consume approximately 150,000tpy activated carbon to reduce mercury emissions. Powdered activated carbon systems are one of the dominant technologies in the control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plant flue gas. This EPA rule is unlikely to be rescinded by the new US administration. Coal plants have already spent billions of dollars complying with its requirements or shutting down.
Nearly 40% of the electricity generated in the USA comes from burning coal. In China, more than 80% of electricity generation is from coal-fired power stations. If China enacts similar legislation to the US EPA MATS rule, the potential world demand for activated carbon in flue gas treatment systems could double to 300,000tpy of powdered activated carbon. China was one of the 140 countries that signed the Minamata Convention on mercury on 19 January 2013 and it went on to ratify the treaty on 31 August 2016. By late September 2016, 140 countries had signed the treaty and 32 had also ratified it. The Convention will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 countries. In Canada, where there is a Country-wide mercury reduction agreement among all the provinces that required a 60% reduction in 2012, and which will likely require an 80% reduction beginning in 2018, individual provinces may move faster to stricter emissions control.
In the municipal drinking water market, an important driver of activated carbon use in 2016 was the reduction of Disinfection By-Products Rule in the USA. Water treatment in industrialising countries represents a larger long-term potential market.
Activated carbon is expected to enjoy further market growth to 2025 and expansion in world production capacity to meet this growth is underway, led by China and the USA but at least four other countries have increased their capacities.
Cabot Purification Solutions remained the leading producer of activated carbon in 2016. Since the acquisition of Jacobi Carbons of Sweden from Addsorb Holding in June 2014, Osaka Gas Chemicals of Japan has moved up into second place. A relatively recent entrant to the market, Datong Coal Jinding Activated Carbon, is already the largest activated carbon producer in Asia and the third largest producer of activated carbon in the world.
Calgon Carbon, the leading producer of granular activated carbon and the largest regenerator of spent activated carbon worldwide, increased its regeneration capacity with the acquisition of Ceca in November 2016. Calgon Carbon has a granular activated carbon capacity of more than 123,000tpy and net capacity is scheduled to increase further by end-2017.
Activated carbon production is based largely on coal, coconut shells and wood charcoal, and raw materials availability can be an issue. Activated carbon is a by-product. Coal (or coconut, or wood) producers do not make production decisions based on the market for activated carbon.
International trade increased in 2016 while prices fell from the peaks experienced in anticipation of the MATS rule and then recovered when the regulation stayed in place. Monthly prices continued to increase in North America, in contrast to trends seen in Chinese and south-east Asian prices. The average value of shipments from the USA increased from US$2,967/t in 2012 to US$4,200/t in 2016. This upward trend is supported by a range of factors and partly reflects higher shipments of speciality activated carbons produced for specific applications. Roskill expects that US prices for speciality grades will continue to increase during 2017.
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