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Tuesday, 26 May 2020

New Chemistry copies nature: dreams become reality

Thursday, 23 May 2013 | Posted by: Tony Mash, TMA Consulting Inc.

Can New Chemistry copy Nature to capture carbon dioxide and successfully manufacture materials that the Coatings Industry can use? Could carbon dioxide generated from paint at the end of its life be transformed into raw materials for new coatings formulations? Once just a dream, there are signs of this becoming a reality. 

Interest in Sustainable Development is growing in the Coatings Industry, supported and encouraged by some visionary downstream companies such as IKEA and B&Q. When changes are suggested to the ways products and services are manufactured and delivered, one sometimes hears the response that ‘it can’t be done’ or ‘it will never be economical’. Such comments provide a robust challenge to those who work in the field of technical innovation.

The mythical quote from the US Patent office in 1899 that ‘Everything that can be invented has been invented’ has since been repeatedly challenged successfully, and the world of Chemistry is playing its part in moving the goal posts forward. I am reminded of my high school chemistry lessons in which I learned about the Noble Gases and how they would not react to form compounds with other elements. Then suddenly in a burst of innovation in 1962, Neil Bartlett, Howard Claasen and Rudolf Hoppe separately reported the synthesis of Xenon compounds stable at room temperature.

Upstream industries: significant impact on coatings formulation

With 80% of the environmental footprint of coatings products (cradle to gate) coming from raw materials, it is always exciting to learn of work that is taking place upstream of our industry which could have a significant impact on coatings formulation and manufacture. One area of great interest is the manufacture of products used by the Coatings Industry sourced from renewable raw materials derived from either agricultural products or its waste streams. Biopol, now more than 30 years old, is manufactured from glucose or starch using an enzyme route. It has similar mechanical properties to polypropylene and is currently used in the medical industry for internal sutures. Purac’s biobased building block, Lactide, is produced by fermentation from sugars, and can be used to build polyester resin. Interestingly, Purac claims that its products enable polyester resin producers to create modified resins with an improved property profile in their final application; an important bonus from Sustainable Innovation.

Solvay has recently announced significant investment in the manufacture of a precursor to epoxy resins using renewable sources of glycerine as a raw material replacing propylene derived from oil. A full Life Cycle Analysis has demonstrated significant net benefits offered by this route opposite existing manufacturing processes.

Whatever next?

One wonders if it could be possible to go a step further and manufacture resins directly from agricultural waste? Photosynthesis is Nature’s way of recycling carbon dioxide back into products valuable to both Nature and Society. Can New Chemistry copy Nature to capture carbon dioxide and successfully manufacture materials that the Coatings Industry can use? Could carbon dioxide generated from the decomposition or incineration of paint at the end of its life be transformed into raw materials for new coatings formulations? Once just a dream, there are signs of it becoming a reality.  

In nothing short of a paradigm shift, academics such as Cor Koning and Saskia Huijser of Eindhoven University of Technology, Holland and M.R. Kimber of Imperial College, London, UK have recently reported discoveries of innovative catalyst systems that make possible the polymerisation of resins incorporating carbon dioxide without the help of enzymes. Some of the resins produced by these mechanisms ’are promising as binders in industrial paint formulations’.

Novomer, a US sustainable materials company , has produced its first large-scale manufacturing run of polypropylene carbonate (PPC) using carbon dioxide as a feedstock at a manufacturing plant of speciality chemicals firm Albemarle in the USA. This type of resin is said to be comparable in properties to polycarbonate but avoids the use of Phosgene and Bisphenol A as precursors. Life Cycle Analyses have demonstrated the environmental effectiveness of this technology.  

Now, I read that researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island in the USA have announced a breakthrough in making acrylates using ethylene and carbon dioxide. Usually, acrylates are made by heating propylene. Product made by the propylene route can be more costly when manufactured in the large volumes needed to meet global acrylate demand.

I offer these examples first of all to praise those who are actively searching for renewable routes to materials required by the Coatings Industry. Secondly, I wish to encourage the Coatings Industry and its customer base to both keep up the pressure on suppliers to invest in this type of research and also be willing to assess these new technologies as they come forward.  Technical innovation is an essential step on the path not only to the enhancement of the Sustainability of Coatings products from cradle to grave but also to the expansion of the functionality of the Coatings Industry’s range of products and services.

Technical innovation has the potential to contribute significantly to the sustainable development of the Coatings Industry.

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