American car industry executives met in Detroit on Tuesday to draw up an action plan, after the explosion at the Evonik factory in Marl, North Rhine-Westphalia, dramatically cut supplies of a chemical used in car brake and fuel lines.
The explosion on March 31, cut the world’s supply of polyamide-12 – a resin also known as nylon-12 – in half, creating concern among car manufacturers, the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD) reported on Thursday.
Nylon-12, coveted for its durability, flexibility and chemical stability, is only made in a few places in the world – and the explosion at Marl not only stopped its production, it also halted work on the chemical by one of the other main producers, French firm Arkema, which gets its raw materials from the Germans.
Evonik and Arkema together provide half of the global market with nylon-12. One of the bigger Asian suppliers, Japanese company Ube, is also suffering production setbacks following the 2011 earthquake.
Over in the US, experts from eight of the country’s biggest carmakers, including General Motors and Toyota, met in Detroit to draw up a contingency plan, and now engineers are working to see if another chemical can replace nylon-12.
Potential new chemicals used in cars can require up to 5,000 hours of testing though, which may not be feasible before stocks of nylon-12 runs out.
“The disruption will probably affect Europe primarily,” said Rod Lache, an analyst for Deutsche Bank in New York told the FTD. He added that the US and Asia had enough nylon-12 to last for several weeks.
Nylon-12 is also used in the medical world to make medical catheters, and also in the solar power industry to make a thin film which covers the photovoltaic panels. Until recently, when several large solar panel factories shut down, the number of panels being made in Germany was putting an extra strain on Nylon-12 supplies.