Some examples of innovations
The innovative solutions developed by Imerys reduce the environmental impact of its products throughout their lifecycle, while contributing to improving its customers’ creativity, quality, yield and ease of production. Here are some examples of products launched recently by the various business groups.
Proppants for non conventional oil and gas drilling and exploration
Proppants are agents that keep rock fractures open to make non-conventional oil and gas field exploitation possible. They are widely used to drill for shale gas in North America. The spread of horizontal drilling and multiple fracturing, in addition to the growth in energy needs, is resulting in high demand for proppants. This market is expected to grow sharply, at approximately +8% per year (+3% of ceramic proppants growth in 2013).
Imerys identified the potential of this market several years ago and has allocated substantial research efforts. The Group has filed 14 patents in this area, and in 2008, launched a small unit of a highly innovative proppant, Propynite®, the rod shape of which helps to increase the productivity of wells without the need to use polluting additives. In 2011, Imerys launched the construction of a production unit for ceramic proppants, which was commissioned at the end of the year.
With the purchase of PyraMax Ceramics LLC in April 2013, Imerys acquired ownership of an industrial complex based in Wrens (Georgia, USA) dedicated to manufacturing ceramic proppants from bauxitic kaolins. Construction of this plant with forecast capacity of 225,000 tons was completed at the end of 2013 and its ramp-up is planned for 2014. With this development, Imerys is tripling its proppants production capacity and enhancing its local reserves of bauxitic kaolin.
Carbon for the Li-Ion battery
A Li-ion battery stores energy through the reversible exchange of lithium ions between a negative electrode comprised of specific carbon products such as graphite, and a positive electrode made from various metallic oxides and conductive additives such as carbon black.
Imerys Graphite & Carbon activity is the world leader in carbon black, which represents a market of approximately 2,500 tons per year. Reversible ion storage in the negative electrode is made possible by a special carbon for which the market is ten times larger in volume terms than that of carbon black in the positive pole. The most common technical solution consists of natural graphite that is made spherical by an energy-intensive mechanical process with a low material yield and is then coated and impregnated with asphalt. As these products are considered harmful, the industry is developing alternatives. In 2005, the Graphite & Carbon activity offered a solution that, in an improved form, led to the introduction of a new product in 2011.
Launched in 2012, C-NERGY™ ACTILION-1 is an active graphite product used for the negative electrode of Li-ion batteries. The market has considerable potential as electronic products are likely to grow + 7% per year, while the Li-ion battery carbon market could grow by 30-40% per year in volume terms, according to several studies.
In 2013, the Graphite & Carbon activity doubled production capacity of its Willebroek (Belgium) carbon black plant in response to the rise in demand from mobile energy and conductive polymers segments; this production facility has been operating since the end of 2013 and should progressively ramp-up in 2014.
Zirconia for oxygen sensors
This product, developed several years ago, is a key component of advanced ignition systems for modern cars. Oxygen sensors act as a small fuel cell. In cells of this type, combustible gas is oxidized,
generating a current as it passes through a ceramic membrane. In oxygen sensors, a very small fraction of exhaust gas is taken up. This small amount of gas goes through a ceramic membrane made from
yttrium oxide-stabilized zirconia before regaining the oxygen in air. The difference in electrical potential generated in this way depends on the oxygen content of the initial gas, the composition of which can therefore be measured. In practice, two cells are used in a row to make the mechanism more accurate. An especially demanding automotive parts supplier chose Imerys zirconia because of its
ImerPlast™ fosters plastic recycling
Only six of the 25 million tons of plastic wastes produced in Europe are currently recycled. Because of the incompatibility between polyethylene and polypropylene, producing miscible blends of the two materials was previously rather difficult. Thanks to a research program started in 2010, Imerys has developed and marketed ImerPlast™, a mineral solution that makes polyethylene/polypropylene blends compatible using an active mineral agent. This innovation opens up new possibilities in applications for recycled plastics (pipes, cable sheaths, sewerage systems, geomembranes, insulation, etc.). It was developed in Europe and will now be launched on other geographic markets where the Group is active.
FiberLean™, a composite of Micro Fibrillated Cellulose and mineral
FiberLean™ is a composite of Micro Fibrillated Cellulose (MFC) and mineral. Imerys’ patented MFC production process has been launched commercially in 2013. FiberLean™ allows paper and packaging producers to increase the filler loading in the sheet and achieve cost savings, productivity gains and improved product properties. Imerys has over 3000 dry metric tons of MFC capacity installed in Europe and North America with one commercial and one pilot plant running. FiberLean™ offers paper makers the opportunity to develop new differentiated products and be more cost competitive. Imerys plans to be the world leading MFC producer and is currently developing FiberLean™ with several customers around the world. MFC is an exciting new material for the Imerys portfolio with many exciting applications within and beyond paper and packaging. To have more information, please visit the Imerys FiberLean website.
Discover other innovations developed by the business groups in the Sustainable Development section.