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Treasure, not Trash: The Story of Chezacarb
Can trash benefit the environment? Is it even possible to call a waste product ecological? When it comes to carbon black pellets named Chezacarb, this is exactly the case. This extraordinary material boasts not only exceptional electrical conductivity qualities but also superior absorptive capacities, thanks to which it is the ideal tool for cleaning up environmental catastrophes, incinerators and heating plants. Today, the pellets are well-known and commonly used for both their conductive and absorptive capacities. They are exported to eighteen countries and demand keeps on growing. But it was not always so. To learn more about this product’s humble beginnings we have to travel back to the year 1971 in Litvínov, Czech Republic and meet the people who stand behind the birth of Chezacarb.
František Nečesaný first became acquainted with the then Stalin research center as a student on holiday in 1952, while working there as a carbon furnace driver. After graduating in 1956, he returned to the center as a technician and then became a researcher in 1967. He came in at a time of strong leadership, flawless teamwork and excellent communication. Then center director, doc. Kubíček, cultivated a prolific work environment. Project implementation and execution were both meticulous and expedient. Researchers like Mr. Nečesaný could sketch a chemical aperture on paper, take it to the workroom and have it done in no time.
Unfortunately, as so often happens, all good things must come to an end. 1970 was a year of transformation, not only for the research center. Many things were changing at a rapid rate. Project budgets were cut, some employees removed from their positions, others demoted, several top researchers’ wages were lowered, plant leadership changed and numerous projects were scrapped.
František Nečesaný remembers how his then colleague, Eng. Zeman, came to him with unofficial information that the design and implementation departments were being shut down, which would mean letting go a line of highly qualified researchers, including the two of them. His concerns were probably not unreasonable. It was, after all, a time full of changes, uncertainty and doubt.
The plant was facing one major problem at the time, so the two of them decided to make themselves useful and find a solution.
The problem was with soot water runoff formed as a by-product of heavy oil gasification. Besides soot, the water contained dangerous contaminants such as hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen cyanide and others. Nobody knew quite what to do with it. Though a liquidation process existed, it was in desperate need of an upgrade. The water was being cleaned with calcium hypochlorite and soot mixed with heavy oil and burned. The whole process was unclean, ineffective and, at times, even dangerous. Both engineers were convinced that there had to be a better way and they set out to find it. Even back then, they saw potential and opportunity where others only saw a burden.
Although there was no research project dealing with this issue at the time, they collected samples of the material and started exploring its properties. Using their existing knowledge, consulting professional literature and conducting experiments indicated that the material could be a true treasure.
The first pleasant surprise came upon finding out the substance has an extremely large active surface. Closer examination revealed its above average absorptive properties and that mixing the active ingredient into contaminated liquids lowered contaminant concentration to under 0.1 milligrams, a completely harmless amount.
They immediately took these incredible results to then director of Chemoprojekt Litvínov. František Nečesaný remembers director Kořínek as an independent thinker with a healthy dose of ingenuity. When he saw their data and literature findings, Kořínek immediately appreciated the engineers’ hard work and started coming up with ideas for how to utilize the material.
A fuel storage facility in Šlapanov was having some issues with petroleum residue in the Šlapanka stream. In cooperation with Chemoprojekt Litvínov, the first water purifier using the soot’s contaminant binding properties was built. Using the new purifier technology resulted in a dramatic decrease of contaminants in Šlapanka. The polluted matter was then burned in a local boiler room. The purifier operation was supervised and its cleaning effectiveness confirmed by ecological authorities. Soon after, Chemoprojekt Litvínov was able to publish a report about “zero waste” technology for cleaning contaminated waters.
At this time, Unipetrol was also planning the removal and demolition of clogged oil pipelines. It was decided to first try the new technology of cleaning pipes using carbon black water. The results were surprising. The pipes were cleansed so well, that they were left in place and even used for gas installation.
The technology was highly effective, but transporting containers of water with 1% active ingredient was not realistic. The active ingredient needed to be isolated from the water and adapted into solid form. The positive results prompted the creation of favorable financial and staffing arrangements to bring this goal to fruition.
Meanwhile, Eng. Zeman had been moved to a different plant division and Eng. Karel Svoboda took over chemical- engineering issue resolution. František and Karel quickly got to work and in a fairly short time came up with three isolation methods. The results were a product in powder form, 1mm pellet form and small cylinder form. With effective transportation finally an option, the two engineers prepared twenty 10 liter containers of their product and set out on the road with them.
First they approached rubber industry companies, as they figured that’s where their product would be ideal. Only one company abroad made a similar product, which was under an embargo and extremely expensive. For that reason, many people couldn’t believe that the two of them developed such a treasure. Despite all of the doubts that they encountered, our two engineers remained steadfast in the pursuit of their goal.
They presented product specifications, produced the samples they’d prepared and convinced the non-believers of their product’s quality. They also learned that the material would be best suited for the rubber industry in pellet form. Powder had too low a density; cylinders were much too hard. The pellet form was optimal and also allowed for conveniently packaged transportation. It was decided to move forward with the pellet model and construction on a pilot commercial production unit could begin.
In true pilot project fashion, some details still had to be worked out. The lack of experience with this material meant a lot of obstacles to overcome during the first manufacturing and distribution operations. In spite of all uncertainties, flops and failures along the way, Karel Svoboda and František Nečesaný persisted and, in time, successfully brought the finished product to life.
Today, the Chezacarb manufactory at Unipetrol RPA is the only technology of its kind in the world, where since the first half of the eighties, soot water has been used to manufacture an environmentally beneficial product, carbon black pellets. The commercial name Chezacarb is a synthesis of an older Chemopetrol name- Cheza (Chemické závody- Chemical factory) and carb- carbon. The pellets were originally used primarily for their electrical conductivity and in time, also their amazing absorptive ability, which according to experts is even better than that of activated charcoal. For this reason, the pellets are ideal for liquidating ecological disasters on bodies of water, where they reliably bind petroleum to themselves.
And that’s how out of waste and refuse, a true treasure for environmental protection was born. Supplied to eighteen countries on four continents, Chezacarb is used worldwide, not only for its absorptive abilities during environmental disaster clean-up, but also its outstanding qualities of electrical conductivity.
František Nečesaný is now retired, but his relationship to this fascinating substance continues. As a voluntary advisor, he participates in improving Chezacarb product parameters to this day.
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