Distinguished by its high elemental carbon (EC) content and well-controlled properties, carbon black is a popular additive mainly used for the reinforcement of rubber and plastic products, as well as coloring. Its widespread applications range from electrical conductivity in high-technology materials to the black coloring pigment of newspaper inks. As per Inkwood Research, the global carbon black market is forecasted to grow with a CAGR of 5.14% during the projection period 2023 to 2032, capturing a revenue share of $17990.52 million by 2032.
Carbon Black: The Bold Choice in Packaging & Printing Ink Applications
The unique properties of carbon black make it an important component of many packaging as well as printing ink formulations, providing benefits such as safety elements and deep black coloration. For example, carbon black can be used in the printing of security features, such as watermarks and holograms, on packaging materials. These features help prevent counterfeiting and protect the integrity of the product.
Let’s take a look at the use of carbon black as a widely used element in the packaging and printing industries –
- Anti-Static Packaging: Carbon black can be added to packaging materials such as polyethylene to provide anti-static properties. In this regard, the primary role of carbon black is to dissipate electricity in a controlled and safe manner to safeguard against static electrical discharge. This is particularly important in the packaging of electronic components, which can be damaged by static electricity. For instance, since PLA, a biodegradable aliphatic polymer obtained from renewable sources, has no conductive characteristics, it requires the inclusion of conductive carbon black. The addition makes the polymer less resistive as the dissipative material, thereby making it suitable for the manufacture of anti-static packaging.
- UV Protection: Long-term exposure to sunlight can result in the degradation of surface materials leading to a deterioration of physical properties, chalking, or changes in color. Carbon black, in this regard, is widely recognized for its potential to stabilize polyolefins against ultraviolet degradation. It can also be utilized as a UV absorber in packaging materials such as polypropylene and polyethylene. Moreover, as per an article titled, ‘Effect of Carbon Black on UV stability of LLDPE Films Under Artificial Weathering Conditions,’ the presence of carbon black depicted significant improvement in UV stabilization when compared to clear films, especially for those with small particle sizes. Carbon black also helps slow down or prevent the destructive absorption of radiation that can subsequently impact the mechanical strength, flexibility, as well as opacity of the polymer. This factor plays an important role in protecting the contents of the package from the harmful effects of UV radiation.
- Conductivity: Conductive inks are the primary building blocks of all printed electronic devices as well as circuit boards. Accordingly, conductive inks based on carbon black and graphite are mainly utilized in a wide range of applications, including energy harvesting, energy storage, printed heaters, and electrochemical sensors. Moreover, as per research, carbon-based aqueous inks also demonstrate high electrical conductivity coupled with excellent mechanical stability. This makes them ideal for applications such as flexible wearable electronics, printed capacitive sensors, and electroluminescent (EL) devices. With a graphite-type crystalline structure, carbon black particles also provide excellent electric conductivity and are thus utilized as conductive fillers mixed in plastics, paints, adhesives, elastomers, films, and pastes.
- Black Coloration: Carbon black possesses higher tinting strength as compared to organic pigments or iron black. As a result, it is widely used for printing inks, newspaper inks, as well as paints. Moreover, the material is used as a black pigment for toners and inkjet inks. In the printing industry, carbon black is used as a pigment and to attain the viscosity for optimum print quality, as well. In this regard, post-treating carbon black facilitates the effective use of binding agents in ink for optimum system properties. On the other hand, coarse carbon blacks, also known as tinting blacks, are indispensable in terms of obtaining a desired grey color hue. The material’s deep black color also offers excellent contrast and visibility, thereby making it ideal for use in high-quality printing applications.
Carbon Black vs. Specialty Carbon Black: What’s the Difference?
Carbon black is a form of elemental carbon that is produced by the incomplete combustion or thermal decomposition of hydrocarbons. It is used in a wide range of applications, including tires, plastics, inks, coatings, and batteries. Specialty carbon black, on the other hand, is the purest form of carbon black with a lower level of ash, sulfur, metals, and other impurities, designed for specific applications.
The main distinction between carbon black and specialty carbon black is in terms of their properties and uses. Specialty carbon black has unique properties that make it suitable for specific applications, such as conductivity, tinting strength, UV resistance, and dispersibility. Some examples of specialty carbon black include conductive carbon black, used in electronic applications, and pigment carbon black, used in the production of black pigments in the printing and packaging industry. In essence, while both carbon black and specialty carbon black are forms of elemental carbon, specialty carbon black is specifically engineered to meet the needs of particular applications or industries.
Future of Carbon Black: Fortifying Specialty Carbon Black
The performance of specialty carbon black is mainly determined by its fundamental properties and the level of dispersion achieved during the application. The important chemical and physical properties include porosity, particle size, surface chemistry, and structure, which have a notable impact on the overall performance. Moreover, the level of dispersion is highly induced by the formulation (dispersant selection), physical form, and mixing equipment.
In terms of specialty carbon black usage, dispersion is a pivotal property for inks and coatings applications. However, rheological properties are also highly essential in the mixing and coating process; small particle size increases blackness, tint, and viscosity, while lowering dispersibility. Therefore, choosing the correct grade of specialty carbon black, aligning with the final application process, is important.
In order to achieve this, research and development activities are rapidly shifting towards advancements in nanotechnology and the development of high-viscosity specialty carbon black. For example, with two state-of-the-art technology centers at Marietta, Georgia and Taloja, Maharashtra, Birla Carbon (India), a leading player operating in the global carbon black market, strongly focuses on the research and development of specialty carbon black products. Hence, these factors are set to direct the notable growth of the global carbon black market during the forecast period.
What are the main manufacturing processes of carbon black?
According to its manufacturing process, carbon black can be categorized into furnace black, gas black, lamp black, and thermal black. Inkwood Research anticipates that the furnace black segment, under the manufacturing process category, is set to grow with the highest CAGR of 5.28% between 2023-2032.
What are the key companies operating in the global carbon black market?
Cabot Corporation, Tokai Carbon Co Ltd, Imersys Graphite & Carbon, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, and others are among the key companies operating in the global carbon black market.