World demand to rise 7.9% annually through 2018
World demand for activated carbon is projected to rise 7.9 percent per year to 2.2 million metric tons in 2018. Tightening regulatory standards, particularly in the two largest markets — the US and China — will drive growth. In the US and other industrialized countries, the stricter standards will reflect increasing focus on mercury removal, while in China and other developing countries the stronger standards and stepped up enforcement will stem from efforts to battle air and water pollution caused by rapid industrialization.
Robust growth in mercury removal will drive growth in powdered activated carbon demand, which will significantly outpace gains in demand for granular and other activated carbon products. Powdered activated carbons are also favored in developing countries for their low cost and ease of use in other applications such as water treatment. Additionally, the increased use of on-site reactivation equipment for spent granular activated carbon will limit growth in demand for virgin granular activated carbon.
Regulatory actions to spur gains in developed nations
In the US and other industrialized nations, demand for activated carbon will be primarily influenced by regulatory actions. For example, demand for activated carbon in mercury removal applications in the US is expected to more than double by 2018 in response to the full implementation of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Activated carbon injection is projected to be the primary technology used for mercury removal from coal-fired power plants, cement plants, solid waste incinerators, and industrial boilers in the US. Canada and the European Union also have mercury emission standards in place, although not as stringent as those seen in the US. Disinfection byproduct (DBP) limits in drinking water will also support increased demand for activated carbon in an otherwise mature application in developed countries.
Rising industrial output, regulatory changes to drive growth in developing areas
In China and other developing parts of the world, growth in activated carbon demand will be promoted by a combination of regulatory changes and rising output from key manufacturing industries. Industrial air treatment is increasing in importance as many urban areas in industrializing countries struggle with significant amounts of air pollution. Activated carbon is effective at removing pollutants such as SO2 and NOx, which are two of the most heavily regulated air pollutants.
While activated carbon use rates in mercury removal applications are expected to remain low relative to those seen in the US, this segment of the market is expected to expand rapidly going forward as countries take the first steps toward mercury removal from industrial sources. The 2013 signing of the Minamata Convention will also motivate governments to develop mercury control regulations, although it will likely be several decades before standards comparable to those in the US are implemented on a global scale. Increasing standards for water treatment — including drinking water and wastewater — will also support demand for activated carbon, particularly as water management infrastructure continues to improve in both rural and urban areas.