05 March 2009 11:15 [Source: ICB]
Paints and coatings have been getting more environmentally friendly for years. The latest offerings take their green credentials to another level
JUST ABOUT anywhere in the world, the health of a nation's construction sector broadly reflects the shape of its economy. Whether it's related to countrywide investment on the part of the government, or an up-and-coming hotspot in the sun winning private investment from business consortia or sports stars, the place to be is always where construction is happening.
New construction projects generate demand for a whole host of different coatings, across the board from the purely decorative to the downright functional with protective, coil, general industrial, powder and floor coatings applied en route.
But times are hard. On one hand, investments in construction projects are being cut, trimmed, delayed and canceled, while on the other hand, topics such as environmental care, renovation and energy efficiency are being found at the heart of increasing numbers of municipal and corporate spending programs.
As they stand now, the need for care over both the global economy and global ecology are both particularly acute. For the architectural coatings sector, the stakes have never been higher. As companies consolidate and markets and opportunities contract, the race to deliver products on the basis of ease of use, environmental compliance and eco-friendliness has never been more hotly contested.
For years, nature itself has been the inspiration for decorative paint ideas, but now it is the very reason for them. New product ranges such from the two giants in the form of Dulux Trade's Ecosure from Dutch group AkzoNobel and US-based PPG Industries' EcoEcho underscore just how vital it is for paint companies to be demonstrating their eco-consciousness as far as paint consumers and contractors are concerned.
Symbolism and seals are also increasingly important in the way the latest decorative paints are presented. For example, in Australia, Orica is using a special Eco symbol to highlight its most eco-conscious offerings, while US group Sherwin-Williams is employing the GreenSure seal to indicate coatings which have been manufactured with less impact on the environment.
Sherwin-Williams, in a massive effort to respond to environmental concerns, is also about to start selling certain of its decorative paints in recycled packaging and labeling printed with soy ink.
The concept of reduced impact upon the environment represents a new wave of eco-consciousness for the paint industry and its consumers, supplanting the low and zero- VOC (volatile organic compound) paint formulations from the limelight, as these are becoming better established.
Mirroring the higher profile of environmental concerns, which are becoming a more regular aspect of the way we live now, the idea of natural, renewable or sustainable raw materials for the coatings industry has become a new mainstream objective, allowing paintmakers to take another step up in terms of their formulation practices. Multinational chemical companies are ideally placed to establish research into renewable raw materials. For example, US-based Dow Chemical recently announced plans to research resins based on castor oil, in India.
DEVELOPMENTS BEAR FRUIT
One of the key areas that bodes well for the development of coatings of the future is that of nanotechnology, and major companies are already demonstrating the practical formulation benefits of this, even though much of the research here is nascent.
One of German major BASF's major triumphs has been the development of its Col.9 binder, which dries to create a network-like structure that imparts both strength and flexibility into the coating layer. This has proven to be one way of overcoming the trade-off between elasticity and hardness. The resilient nature of the coating avoids crack formation inorganic content maintains a higher degree of surface hardness (translating into low dirt accumulation) while the hydrophilicity of the coating facilitates particulate wash-off.
The binder, which is intended for use in facade paints, has already been adopted for use by AkzoNobel, as part of its Herbol range and is seen by BASF as an "antiaging formula for facade paints."
Photocatalytic coatings based on nano-scale titanium dioxide are also gaining momentum at the application stage, as the formulation technology begins to spread. These coatings offer both a self-cleaning ability through rain-based wash-off of dust and particulates as well as bacterial destruction through catalytic oxidation.
Among the key applications are large-scale public buildings such as shopping centers and skyscrapers. The coatings themselves are very expensive, but they offer long-term savings by eliminating the need for specialist maintenance workers to keep them clean, while at the same time they present clean, attractive exteriors from one year to the next.
Future steps in interior photocatalytic coatings involve research in dealing with the absence of rain and different lighting conditions. Photocatalytic coatings have an especially important and valuable role to play in bridging between construction and the environment because they destroy pollutants (instead of transferring them) and because they can be adapted to a large range of pollutant types.
Although also drawing upon nanotechnology, the Dulux Ecosure paint resulted from a far-reaching approach to set itself apart from other coatings claiming to be environmentally friendly. This entailed the former ICI's (which AkzoNobel purchased in 2008) collaboration with Forum For the Future, an organization that helps to develop practical ways in which to achieve sustainable concepts. Far beyond a mere water-based paint of low-VOC content, Ecosure has been conceived and validated as a paint of lower embodied carbon, which has meant a lower carbon footprint throughout the entire production process.
CORPORATE ACUMEN SHARPENS
As eco-friendly philosophies continue to rise through corporate agendas around the world, major organizations and companies are increasingly alert to the benefits of making their standpoint on the environment known to their customers.UK retailer Marks & Spencer, which developed a 100-point plan for tackling the problems that arise where business and environmental thinking intersect. Marks & Spencer has been among the first businesses to commend the ground-breaking Ecosure paint.
Sherwin-Williams has also been at the forefront of developments as far as sustainable paints are concerned on the other side of the Atlantic. It has partnered with KB Home, one of the major homebuilders in the US, to offer an exclusive, co-branded paint for KB Home's My Home, My Earth line of environmentally friendly choices (which, incidentally, also includes recyclable, low-VOC carpet).
The paints it offers are not only low-VOC, low-odor and mildew-resistant, but promote better indoor air quality. This recent announcement reflects KB Home's decision to incorporate the new Sherwin-Williams co-branded line in all homes with effect from the start of January this year, in line with its commitment to sustainability within the construction sector.
Such measures and motives show that the paint industry is digging deeply to face up to the challenges posed by the construction sector - reduced maintenance, higher performance and increasingly sensitive to the needs of a changing world.
Terry Knowles holds two degrees in chemistry and has been writing about the paint industry and markets for over 10 years. He is business manager for consultancy IRL. Fascinated by words, he is a former champion on the UK's Countdown quiz show.
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