The performance coatings sector has seen decades of development to protect installations and transportation equipment. The sector has been highly dominated by solvent based systems and these systems have seen incremental innovations for a long period of time. The end-user demands for these systems have been set in a context of a world in an ever-changing environment: high pressure on efficiency, increased globalization and international trade, as well as the period of increased climate focus. So how is this world going to look in the near future? In my attempt to share thoughts on this subject, I will focus on the rheology system, how its currently being solved and how it can be solved with alternative, more environmentally friendly technologies in the future.
The current technologies for performance coatings: what is it and why is it so?
A performance coating is a complex mix. The application and demand from the users of the coating set the standard for what it needs to endure. A marine coating sees a completely different environment than an automotive or an aeroplane coating, but there are some common denominators: they all need to have stability, application performance, and in-use performance. In the past and present, a lot of the solvent borne systems are being used, and in brief it can be described as the result of waterborne systems not being able to perform. A rheology system in both the solvent-borne and the waterborne system needs sufficient yield stress to keep it stable, often shear thinning abilities to be able to perform during application, and display film improving properties after application to obtain endurance. The yield stress can be improved by adding rheology additives, many of which is associative (meaning that they chemically interact with the matrix around it). These additives have traditionally been based on crude oil as starting material, and thus do not improve the environmental profile.
Here's one thing: there has seldom been a rheology additive that can potentially aid on all three of these functionality goals. Typically, additives used for film formation has been separate ones (film formation additives can improve the coating surface functionalities), and they have seldom been a rheology additive at the same time. In addition, the yield stress of an associative rheology additive may differ widely depending on the common additives used in the system (surfactants used etc.)
The performance coatings are often high-solid systems with the introduction of pigments with a high own-weight. This puts the rheology system under constraints, and the typical way of getting rid of this problem is to create a lot of different chemistry solutions, where every product is quite different from the other. This creates complexity, even a fairly high complexity, especially if you ask your friends in production.
The future: will we be able to radically shift technologies, or are we stuck with incremental innovations?
What about all this talking of waterborne formulations? Take the decorative coatings as an example: 15 years ago, most paint shops would sell mainly solvent based exterior paints. These days, the majority is becoming waterborne systems, since people find it easier to handle and it's nicer for the environment (both microenvironment and macroenvironment). Can the waterborne systems enter performance coatings with success then? In my view, it depends on a lot of factors, but I see two things as crucial: material handling at customer site and endurance profiles. The innovations will probably happen in two directions (quite fast though):
- Lower-risk applications (for instance DIY applications) -> waterborne systems dominate in 2025
- Higher-risk applications (aerospace, marine etc.) -> incremental innovations will take place and most of the systems will still be solvent-based in 2025
Where do I want to go with this? Well, I see a gigantic upside for the companies that are willing to invest and take risk in the period we are now entering. There are room to maneuver for securing IP with new waterborne technologies, new and sophisticated rheology systems are emerging and the demand pattern is shifting. There are so many megatrends pulling in the right direction, and overseas shipments will continue to boom in our internet shopping era. So how about being the first one to introduce the best waterborne coating for ships or aerospace? And utilize new technologies to get there? A lot of the tools are there, the job is on to find them and create the synergies for your new waterborne performance coating system!