April 19, 2012

Castor oil to the auto rescue?

The global automotive industry is abuzz with the tightened supply of polyamide 12 (also called nylon 12) which are used in cable ties, wire insulation, flexible hosing, nozzles, damping cogwheels, flexible cover caps, sheet gaskets, sealing rings, and in other fuel line applications/auto-related parts.

PA-12 is also used in plastic parts to make solar panels and cable coverings used in offshore oil and gas production.

Based on several googled websites, PA-12 reportedly have excellent properties such as high degree of dimensional stability under humidity or freezing environment; high resistance to chemicals such as hydraulic fluids, oil, fuels, grease, salt water, solvents; strong resistance to cracking under stress; high-resistance to abrasion; and has high fatigue resistance.

PA-12 also dampens noise and vibration, according to various sources. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with cars but from what I've seen on several news about this PA-12, this is an important chemical for the automobile industry as car makers and several players along the automotive supply chain held an emergency meeting yesterday in Detroit, Michigan, to discuss the critical issue on PA-12 shortage.

According to this article from Plastics News, there are very few suppliers worldwide of  PA-12, namely Evonik, Arkema, Ube Industries and EMS-Grivory. Global PA-12 production was estimated at around 100m lbs/year. Evonik is the only producer here vertically integrated in a key PA-12 feedstock called cyclododecatriene (CDT), which is manufactured by cyclotrimerization of butadiene.

CDT is used to make laurolactam, which in turn is used as a monomer in PA-12.

Unfortunately, a fire broke out at the end of March at Evonik's CDT facility in Marl, Germany, (two employees were killed) and CDT production (capacity is not disclosed) is expected to remain out-of-order for at least three months. This in turn, will affect PA-12 production for those who are dependent on CDT material.

Now here comes the castor part (sorry it took a while to get to this point...).

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