From glass to aluminum, energy prices wreak havoc

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

High oil and natural gas prices continue to ripple through the economy, affecting everything from chemical producers and glass makers to delivery charges, air fares and office rents.

Also in the news today … a rather sobering explanation of an explosion in 2003 … aluminum dust, in the right circumstances, can explode. And, more frightening (at least to me, because someone operates one of these just across the parking lot from us), an explosion in an outside dust collector can travel back into the factory.

Dust accumulation blamed in ’03 blast


According to the report, the aluminum dust ignited in the factory’s dust collection system. The dust originated in a scrap system at the plant, and a high concentration of the dust, when suspended in air, is extremely combustible.

The plant manufactures cast alloy aluminum wheels, and until the time of the explosion, had dried and melted down scrap metal chips created during its manufacturing process. The dust from the process was separated from the chips and conveyed to dust collectors on the outside of the building, according to the report.

When the dust in the collector exploded, it sent a pressure wave through the system’s ductwork and back into the building, according to CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt. A fireball then erupted in the building, which lofted and ignited more aluminum dust that had accumulated on the rafters and equipment, she said.

And copper prices continue to rise …

Copper prices climbed to a record for the third straight day in New York as global inventories declined, suggesting demand remains high for the metal used in wiring, manufacturing and construction.

Other reasons cited:

short-term supply problems in Canada, the United States and Zambia, as well as falling warehouse stocks, continued to drive the market.

Copper, used in construction and electronics, is on the crest of a wave of buying that has been driven by demand from China, speculative activity and, most recently, supply worries.

In Canada, Falconbridge Ltd. declared force majeure on Tuesday at its Kidd Creek copper-zinc plant in Canada as a strike entered its fourth day.

In Zambia several plants have cut production or closed and more are threatened by energy shortages, although the government has scrapped import duty on fuel in an attempt to keep the copper sector running.

In the United States, Asarco closed its Hayden smelter in Arizona for repairs. The company is already gripped by a 3-1/2-month strike, reducing output by around 20 percent.

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