LOUISVILLE, Ky. - On March 21, an explosion and fire occurred at a Carbide Industries LLC calcium carbide manufacturing plant, in Louisville, Ky. The conditions within the furnace building resulted in fires that continued to burn for several days.

The explosion claimed the lives of two employees, injured two others, and, according to the company, has severely damaged the largest calcium carbide furnace in the Americas. The workers who died are longtime employees who worked in the furnace department. The injured were treated and released from the hospital.

Calcium carbide is an essential component to acetylene. As a result of the incident, supplies of acetylene may be affected. Carbide Industries said, “It is likely that calcium carbide production will not resume for an extended period of time. … We are pursuing foreign sources of calcium carbide to minimize the disruption to our customers as we rebuild our furnace.”

The Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) reported that it spoke with a senior Carbide Industries executive to gauge the long-term supply of the acetylene component and learned that Carbide Industries:

• Will continue supplying calcium carbide from its current inventory on an allocation basis for two months.

• Has a second, smaller plant in Oklahoma that is ramping up production.

• Has become a calcium carbide importer with foreign shipments currently arriving.

• Expects to have as many as six foreign sources of calcium carbide in inventory by May.

• Does not anticipate supply limitations after May. And,

• Anticipates rebuilding their Louisville, Ky., facility within six to nine months.

HARDI said MPS and MAPP gas are potential alternatives, but supplies for HVACR applications may be very limited. Further, according to HARDI, propylene is a common alternative to acetylene, but will require technicians to purchase new tips, regulators, and hoses in most cases, and while not yet substantiated, there is talk of significant backlogs on propylene containers. HARDI stated it is continuing to monitor the situation.

For more information, go to www.carbidellc.com or www.hardi.org.

Publication date:04/25/2011