12/28/2014 3 albums Share: , , Album RSS
The Carbo-Sil site, once called National Carbon, a division of Union Carbide, produced the graphite that was used by Enrico Fermi in the first nuclear chain reaction. The graphite was to be produced by US Graphite in Saginaw, Michigan. But the Saginaw graphite contained more impurities than Fermi would tolerate, so US Graphite lost its contract to National Carbon, whose only plant at the time was in Niagara Falls. The irradiated graphite and other materials from his CP-1 reactor are buried in the Palos Forest Preserve outside Chicago and marked with a huge stone obelisk explaining the significance of Fermi's achievement.

From a former employee of Carbo-Sil:

Carbo-Sil processed a rocky material called Silicon Carbide. Some silicon carbide is used in making steel from old scrap iron, such as engine blocks. It is normally sold in chunks, like rocks. Carbo-Sil would process the small, unusable pieces (called fines which has the consistency of sand or gravel), combine them with concrete and water, and make blocks. We used a concrete block machine to make the blocks.

Sometimes the fine raw materials were made from chunks that were ground up in a crusher that we had on-site. We had some very pure silicon carbide (95% pure) and some very low grade silicon carbide and usually combined them to get a 65% or 50% mix to make blocks from.

We had a kiln in the building which was used to dry the blocks before shipping. We had a lab which was used to analyze the silicon carbide content of the raw material and the finished blocks. We also had a bagging operation that put the fine material into bags.

Carbo-Sil was located in a bunch of old buildings that had belonged to Union Carbide. There were lots of old machinery in the building which we scavenged for usable parts.

I found more info about the Silicon Carbide bricks online: "Silicon Carbide is a unique material which upon dissolution in BOF steel-making, acts as a fuel and provides energy which can be used to increase scrap-to-hot-metal ratio. Silicon Carbide provides more energy than Ferrosilicon when equivalent silicon units are used. In comparison to coal, Silicon Carbide allows greater substitution of hot metal due to significantly lower sulfur and carbon monoxide emissions. Exothermic properties of Silicon Carbide are cost-effective for mills with hot metal shortages or temporary blast furnace outages. Silicon Carbide can also be used to raise tap temperatures."

"Silicon carbide grain is an effective slag deoxidizer, as well as an excellent source of silicon and carbon. It's low aluminum, sulfur and nitrogen content make it a very cost effective material to replace Ferrosilicon or Silicomanganese. Briquettes and grain are available in various sizes and shapes to meet your material handling requirements."

It was owned by Chuck Knapp (from Pittsburgh) and I think it might have been partially owned by Herman Miller (probably from Miller and Company). I lost touch with most of the employees and owners after I left in 1989, and haven't heard from any in many years.

When we were in the buildings, we only used one of the buildings which was kind of U-shaped (three buildings connected). They were mostly wide open, and we just had our equipment set up in the open areas. I don't remember having any bed or cars or buses in there. Quite a bit of the stuff you photographed was probably from the Union Carbide days, as it looks just like when I explored the old plant scrounging for parts and wondering what they did there.

> In one of the buildings I found a shelving unit full of bags of what > looked like rocks, gravel, some finer dirt - all labled with a sample > number, and possibly where they were from. Was that the kind of small > pieces used to make the blocks?

Those were probably samples of some scrap that we were buying. We would buy a truckload or more of scrap material, grind it up to almost sand-like consistency, and use that to make the blocks or bag it.

The Silicon Carbide, the main ingredient we used, is a really cool looking material, and about as hard as a diamond. Some of the pieces look like semiconductor silicon with iridescent patterns.

I also noticed the barrels and boxes of scrap material that you photographed. Depending on the silicon content, we would crush those materials, mix them with high grade material, and make them into blocks. Some of them (like the boron) we just couldn't use/sell, so there they sat (and still sit today!)."

I believe the EPA was referring to this site with this: "The site is a Brownfields redevelopment property owned by the City of Niagara Falls. Approximately 200 drums of unknown materials and 70 pallets of unknown materials were found at the site. The site is eligible for removal action."

And a possible storage for guided missiles?!?! or at least the cases. Demolition began in 2011.



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