Acetylene shortage

An industrial accident in Kentucky leads to a shortage of a welding gas used in steel bike production. But first, a handmade bicycle video.

The video brings you into the Sean Walling’s shop in Petaluma, California, where he hand builds his Soulcraft bicycles.

It looks like Walling uses an arc welder to join the tubes, but brazing is done with an oxyacetylene torch. Acetylene is manufactured from calcium carbide. North America’s largest manufacturer of calcium carbide went offline last March when Carbide Industries’ factory in Louisville, Kentucky exploded, killing two workers and injuring two others. The Louisville carbide factory produced 75% of calcium carbide used in the United States. The industrial fire took several days to burn out because water + calcium carbide is an exothermic reaction that produces highly volatile acetylene gas.

The shortage is expected to last as long as a year as Carbide Industries rebuilds the furnace where carbide is manufactured. U.S. welding supply companies have been scrambling for overseas sources of carbide to manufacture acetylene, but in the meantime they’ve been advising customers to switch to propane gas.

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