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Acetylene shortage

In speaking with my local welding supply company here in Raleigh NC
yesterday I learned about the national acetylene shortage. A calcium
carbide plant in Louisville KY exploded last week (2 casualties,
sadly). Calcium carbide is a primary component in the production of
acetylene gas, so the production of acetylene in the US is now down
to 30%. Supply is being rationed, prices are sure to rise, andit will
be this way for quite a while to come, they say. We have a shared
studio here, and among the six of us we have three air-acetylene
outfits, an oxy-propane micro torch, and a propane French blowpipe.
Air-acetylene is our primary heat here, and I’m concerned about being
able to get the fuel. My supplier says it’s being rationed to him,
and he will only fill a tank half-way as long as he has fuel to sell.

I’m told an adapter can be used to convert a Smith air-acetylene
torch outfit to propylene, but my supplier says he doesn’t sell a
lot of propylene and I can’t be guaranteed it will be available. He
said some air-acetylene outfits can be converted to propane. That
would be easy fuel to get, but there is no mention of that in the
manual for the torch. And I’m not sure that would get hot enough,
etc… without pure oxygen being added.I don’t want to buy a whole
new setup for us, but I’m not sure what to do.

Does anyone have any ideas or advice?

Ginger Meek Allen


When I first read this I didn’t think there could possibly be a
national problem. Calcium carbide was the main way of producing
acetylene till the 1950s but today most acetylene is made by
cracking petroleum products like methane or from processing coal.
Acetylene is / was a major component in making many organic
chemicals, many of which are used in the production of the common
plastics vinyls, acrylics etc. Only about 20% of the acetylene
produced is used for torch fuel. Anyhow it looks like due to the
major increases in petroleum costs and the offshoring of whole
industries China is now the major producer of acetylene so that
carbide plant was one of the few acetylene production facilities left
in the US.

As for your thoughts on using your acetylene air torches with propane
that will not work. The orifices in the torch tip are designed for
the correct mix of air and acetylene and will not produce proper mix
for propane and air. There are torch tips you can buy that will fit
the prest-o-lite type torch handle that are designed for propane.
They will work for many jobs but I think you will find the flame from
them less satisfactory than the flame acetylene produces.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

May be a good time to perfect those cold connection skills! :slight_smile:

Joe Bloyd (Bloomington, IN & beautiful Spring weather)

Is there a shortage of acetylene? What is the alternative for
replacing acetylene? The lapidary club I belong to uses acetylene
silver smithing classes and jewelry making.



The non-profit I work at has looked into this issue. There is in fact
an acetylene shortage due to the explosion at the KY plant. They are
quickly restoring the facilities and expect to resume business as
usual very soon. To my understanding, this is a short term issue and
the shortage will not affect most of us. I do not believe it
necessary to change your step-up due to this incident.