Just as our Zero Harm / Zero Waste culture serves as our overarching value, our products serve as foundational elements of our global infrastructure. Koppers has a long history of sustainability in our operations. We reuse waste and scrap materials generated from other industries as our key production inputs, while also utilizing renewable resources for another significant portion of our raw material requirements, placing us in the center of the circular carbon economy. Our products also increase the durability and extend the life of wood products, which significantly aids in atmospheric carbon being sequestered over time.
Railroad and Utility Products and Services
Koppers is a world leader in the manufacturing of treated wood products, primarily for the railroad and electric utility/communications industries. Treated wood makes structures more durable and resistant to decay, thereby increasing safety, reducing replacement costs, preserving valuable forests and immobilizing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
For many years, Koppers has been supplying the railroad industry with treated wood railroad ties and railroad crossing panel products. In North America, we are the largest provider of railroad crossties for the Class I Railroads and are known for our pre-plated crossties. We currently serve all North American Class I railroads and have relationships with many of the approximately 550 short-line and regional rail lines. This also forms the customer base for our railroad services business, which conducts engineering, design, repair and inspection services for railroad bridges, and a business that recovers used crossties. In addition, utility customers throughout North America and Australasia purchase a variety of wood utility poles.
Koppers Performance Chemicals is a global leader in the development of progressive wood preservative systems and technologies. With a dedicated staff of global wood science professionals, our premier research capabilities position Koppers as the pioneer in wood preservation, a key strategic driver for the organization that is opening new uses for wood in replacement of other, less-sustainable materials. Koppers provides wood preservatives, engineering services and award-winning marketing to our valued customers in over 70 countries.
We supply nine of the 10 largest lumber treating companies in the United States and the three largest lumber treating companies in Canada. We develop revolutionary ways to pressure treat lumber for decks, fences, landscaping and general building uses. We offer advanced protection against termite damage, rot and fungal decay. We provide wood preservatives that meet the most demanding construction needs. Our brands include MicroPro®, MicroShades®, Naturewood®, Advance Guard® and Hi-bor®. We are also a leading supplier of fire-retardant chemicals, with brands such as FlamePro® and FirePro® for pressure treatment of wood, primarily in commercial construction.
By treating wood and extending its uses and capabilities, Koppers is driving demand for wood products with significant environmental benefits. Multiple global trends – including accelerating urbanization and technology – are positively impacting demand for treated wood in residential and industrial uses as a safe, high-performing, cost-effective and sustainable alternative to materials like steel or concrete.
Carbon Materials and Chemicals
Koppers carbon materials and chemicals are essential to the production of aluminum, steel, plastics, resins, treated wood and rubber products. Our products also increase the durability of many products including railroad ties and utility and transmission poles. This leads to longer-lasting products that enhance global infrastructure.
As a leading distiller of coal tar, a byproduct of the transformation of coal into coke, Koppers produces carbon pitch, refined tar, creosote, carbon black feedstock and chemical oils. The chemical oils resulting from distillation are used to produce naphthalene and phthalic anhydride. This distillation process is an example of the company’s sustainability business model – taking materials that would otherwise be disposed or burned (considered a mid-point in the circular carbon economy) and converting them to a productive use.
The majority of the creosote our Carbon Materials and Chemicals segment produces in North America and Europe is sold internally to our RUPS business for treating railroad crossties. We also sell directly to a global customer base through our regional sales personnel.
Our vision is to be recognized as the standard bearer for safely delivering customer focused solutions primarily through the development and application of technologies to enhance wood. We take seriously our obligation to ensure that we provide the safest and most reliable products possible as part of our mission. Building on our Zero Harm / Zero Waste foundation, our Quality Policy is embedded in our culture, processes and management. Together, our employees embrace the responsibility we share to achieve our quality objectives and maintain our standards.
In our facilities across the globe, we train our employees to deliver consistent quality standards across our footprint, all while keeping the safety and health of our people and communities at the forefront. Koppers customers value us for our quality, innovative solutions, timeliness and attention to detail.
Koppers continues to research and implement new and innovative technologies to extend our sustainability business model across our value chain. Our efforts begin with our supply chain, in particular our raw materials. We have long-term supply agreements for the purchase of coal tar, a byproduct of coke plants. Coal tar is a key raw material we use in the production of creosote, a wood preservative, as well as pitch products and refined chemicals and distillates. The agreements cover a significant portion of the domestic raw material needs for Koppers and represent the inherently sustainable nature of our business.
Otherwise an unusable byproduct, the coal tar is generated in the steel coking process, purchased and processed by Koppers into many valuable products serving multiple critical industry segments. For example, creosote has been used for more than 150 years as a wood preservative, extending the useful life of timber products and conserving natural resources. An additional benefit of extending the life of wood infrastructure is that atmospheric carbon that has been captured through photosynthesis is retained longer in the wood. Railroad crossties that are pressure treated with creosote have a service life of up to 40 years, making it an economical and reliable product for the railroad industry.
One of the most exciting areas of opportunity for Koppers is to drive significant innovation by pursuing “cradle-to-cradle” supply chain solutions. Our 2018 acquisition of M.A. Energy Resources added important capabilities, including handling the recovery and repurposing of railroad crossties and utility poles. Koppers has shifted the conversation regarding ties which have reached the end of their useful service life, converting these ties to a source of energy and potential new products. In 2018, Koppers collected nearly 3.5 million railroad ties, which is equivalent to more than 1,000 miles of railroad track. We converted these ties to biomass and sold them as fuel, offsetting the need for fossil fuels.
Copper is the principal component in formulating wood preservatives. Copper protects wood from fungal decay and termite attack, and extends the service life of wood products for decades. Koppers Performance Chemicals segment manufactures and purchases copper compounds, all of which are produced from post-consumer or post-industrial scrap copper. The company purchases more than 35 million pounds of scrap copper or other compounds containing copper. According to the Copper Development Association, reusing scrap copper saves between 85 to 90 percent of the energy resources that it takes to mine the earth for new copper ore.
Innovation, one of our corporate values, is essential to solving our customers’ most important challenges. Two key facilities – our Koppers Global Technology Center, an applied research facility located 15 miles north of our global headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and our research laboratory and pilot plant in Griffin, Georgia – provide our internal experts with the resources needed to ensure product quality and drive new enhancements and offerings. Additionally, Koppers operates a virtual innovation laboratory where employees submit multiple ideas daily through our iShare portal.
Maintaining supply channels around the world to source our wood and other raw materials is vital to our business. We work closely with our suppliers to ensure we source our materials in an ethical and responsible manner, in accordance with our Code of Conduct.
Koppers vendors, contractors and suppliers are vital to our sustainability strategy and performance. We are committed to implementing the Guiding Principles of Responsible Care throughout our supply chain. As we work to design and develop more sustainable products, we engage with our suppliers to ensure our products are manufactured and transported safely. As an example, Koppers has been recognized three of the past four years by the Association of American Railroads with a Non-Accident Release Grand Slam Award, given annually to companies that demonstrate exemplary performance in shipping hazardous materials. To qualify, a company has to be recognized by at least four Class I railroads and have had zero non-accident releases in the previous calendar year.This spirit of continuous improvement aligns with our efforts to be transparent and consistent with the most current and comprehensive product stewardship information practices. We provide product stewardship summaries on our website, so our customers and stakeholders may better understand the makeup and overall impacts of our products. Koppers follows all state and federal regulations and provides product information via Safety Data Sheets, which are also available on our website.