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German chemical plant explosion throws global car industry into turmoil

20 April 2012

The explosion on March 31 at the Evonik chemical plant in Marl, North Rhine-Westphalia, killed two workers and also cut the world’s supply of nylon-12 in half, according to the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD). Nylon-12 is a resin used in car brake and fuel lines. 

The explosion at the Evonik chemical plant in Germany killed two workers and also cut the world’s supply of nylon-12 in half
The explosion at the Evonik chemical plant in Germany killed two workers and also cut the world’s supply of nylon-12 in half

Nylon-12 is only made in a few places in the world, and the explosion at the Evonik plant not only stopped its own production, but also halted deliveries by one of the other main producers, French firm Arkema, which gets its raw materials from Evonik.

Evonik and Arkema together provide half of the global market for nylon-12. One of the bigger Asian suppliers, Japanese company Ube, is also suffering production setbacks following the 2011 earthquake. 

In the USA, experts from eight of the country’s biggest carmakers, including General Motors and Toyota, met in Detroit on April 16 to draw up a contingency plan, and US engineers are working to see if another resin can replace nylon-12. But potential new chemicals used in cars can require up to 5,000 hours of testing, which may be too long as existing stocks of nylon-12 could run out long before. 

“The disruption will probably affect Europe primarily,” Rod Lache, an analyst for Deutsche Bank in New York told the FTD. He added that the US and Asia had several weeks'supplies.


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