Bright future for bio-based coatings
“Bio-based coatings are an emerging market with approximately 5 % market share”, says Mary Ellen Shivetts of PPG. Even though this segment only holds a niche share, it is not neglected by the industry. With rising ecological concerns and increasing consumer awareness for eco-friendly products, bio-based systems are believed to play a larger role in the future.
Markus Mechtel of Covestro describes the market for bio-based paints and coatings as follows: “More and more companies along the value chains want to develop solutions to global challenges such as climate change and scarce resources and are committed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Likewise, an increasing number of consumers are asking for more sustainable products, also in terms of their origin.”
Growth potential for bio-based coatings
Berta Vega Sánchez, also of Covestro, sees good growth potential for the use of bio-based coatings in general, both in terms of market share and of opening up further applications and industries. The driving forces are an increasing environmental awareness, climate plans like the EU Green Deal and the ongoing transition to the circular economy.
“The bright opportunities for bio-based coatings are in high-value applications and value chains driven by downstream players, such as brand owners with strong sustainability policies, like the automotive, furniture and packaging industries”, explains Sánchez. “However, in highly fragmented conservative markets like protective coatings, with high industry standards in terms of weather resistance, it might take longer to introduce new products and expand the use of renewable raw materials”, she adds.
Additional R&D Work is needed
For Shivetts from PPG all markets within the paints and coatings industry are open to the possibility of bio-based coatings alternatives, however, on some segments, additional research and development work is needed to ensure product performance. “While there are a relatively small number of bio-based paints and coatings within the current market, further research and development will allow greater understanding of bio-based materials and their performance”, Shivetts says.
As the market for these coatings is still rather small and as their production – as well as the production of the respective raw materials – is more complex and costlier than that of conventional products, they are still more expensive, explains Sánchez. “The industry is already working on a second generation of biomass, derived from biowaste and cellulose. Both materials are available in huge quantities. This will further broaden the portfolio of bio-based materials.”
Reducing the carbon footprint
Akzo Nobel is exploring the use of bio-based ingredients as an alternative to the fossil-based economy in both the paints and coatings market segments. “When it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of our products, we use both bio-based materials and materials containing recycled content. Since bio-based ingredients still resemble oil-based chemical ingredients, simply finding ways to use them isn’t our goal as such”, an Akzo Nobel spokesperson says. ”Sánchez also sees the performance as crucial: “Bio-based polyurethane coatings and raw materials used therefore must achieve the same high level of quality as petrochemical-based products or even exceed it”.
A similar view comes from Shivetts: “When developing bio-based coatings for our customers two of the main challenges are consistent raw material availability at an affordable cost, and performance. The switch to plant-based materials must not result in any compromise in functionality of the paint, which can present a challenge for paint manufacturers to maintain standards”.
Industry works on projects – Still a long Way to go
Even though these challenges and hurdles are existing, the industry experts are convinced to tackle the tasks. Mechtel is convinced that a future production of larger volumes (economy of scale) will lead to an adjustment of prices, so that the renewable products will be available at lower costs. “This is especially crucial for new molecules (near drop-ins) that need to compete in price with well-established petrochemicals.
On the other hand, for drop-in building blocks, mass-balancing is a faster way to integrate bio-based feedstock in the value chain without the need to make large investments and/or adjustments in upstream infrastructure and processes. With mass-balanced drop-in solutions, the implementation of circular products into paint production is also hassle-free with the same processing conditionals at no additional risk”, Mechtel explains.
New bio-based resins
Akzo Nobel recently announced a bio-based innovation developed in collaboration with the Dutch Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks Consortium. It’s a completely new technology that’s able to cure chemicals for paints. “This breakthrough – which uses bio-based monomers and requires just UV light, oxygen and renewable raw materials – is a more sustainable way of making resins. We are on the verge of progressing to the next level of coatings technology, thanks to this example of collaborative innovation in action. We are opening up a new future for paints and coatings by using sustainable building blocks that will enable us to explore and develop some really exciting functionalities for our customers”, the Akzo Nobel spokesperson says.
Nevertheless, the Dutch coatings manufacturer points out that the company still has got a long way to go in terms of exploring the scope of the technology, but it will almost certainly define the future of our products. “By 2040 or 2050, there’s also a good chance we might only be using bio-based monomers in our resin production, which will help us to reduce the overall carbon footprint of our products”.