UV/EB: “Highest impact technology for more sustainable coatings“
You are investing in a purpose-built centre for sustainable innovation in Liverpool. What led to this step and why did you choose the U.K. as the location?
Gavin Bown: During the last year we saw the need to step up our capabilities in the UV/EB segment. Although we had achieved a lot of success with this technology in our laboratory in France, we were only scratching the surface. We decided that we needed to separate the short-term developments from the longer-term goals. The team in France needed to focus on ongoing projects for the market with the first generation of products in the coil business and we needed to have additional capability behind that developing the next generations of capabilities.
We came to the conclusion that a further investment was needed to build a flagship Sustainable Innovation Centre which meets our current and future requirements. Although we have R&D-teams at each manufacturing site, the global Long-Term Development laboratory for our coil coatings business has been based in Liverpool for many years. This laboratory already serves the entire company, not only the U.K. business. The premises had the space to build our new innovation centre. Furthermore, we hold key partnerships with the five universities in close proximity. The theoretical research through the local academia will support us as well.
One focus of the centre will be on the development of UV/EB coatings. How do you rate the current situation in the market for UV/EB coatings in the coil business?
Eric Fouissac: The UV/EB technology has been around for a while. Although it has been in use for example in the wood business, it is still a niche. But I see a growing market. I think there are regulatory tail winds that will help. Sustainability is becoming more and more important on so many levels. The UV/EB technology can strongly support meeting sustainability goals and will eventually lead to cost-savings. Emissions can be reduced. So instead of paying taxes for emissions, the money can be invested in new equipment. There has been a steep increase of these taxes in the last five years, and I expect further increases. Also, the efficiency with e.g. faster curing times, less energy consumption and lower volumes of paint to be applied will support the potential for growth. But it will take some time to convince customers to convert from conventional systems to UV/EB in the coil coatings segment. In probably ten years I could expect the market share of UV/EB coatings to be decent.
Where do you see the challenges for UV/EB coatings to gain further market share?
Bown: Cost have always been a challenge. It is true that customers need to invest before they will be able to use this technology. Although the UV/EB technology can be retrofitted to existing coil coating lines, it is still a significant investment. Through our new products and R&D work we need to show the performance and cost benefits in the long run. Our sustainable innovation centre will support us in this regard.
In the coil coatings segment, you have started the first projects for a shift from conventional coatings to UV/EB coatings. What are your experiences?
Fouissac: We are satisfied with the first experience. It was sure that there is no compromise with the quality in the performance of the product. This is why it has taken us 15 years to develop this product. We have been approached by several customers as they either outlined or already implemented decarbonization strategies for steel. After producing the steel, the process of coating the coil is the second biggest source of carbon emissions. We could prove to cut production costs and making a product ‘greener’. However, we can reduce the carbon footprint of the coil coating process even without the switch to UV/EB, through for example the use of circular economy raw materials. But the conversion to UV/EB will have a stronger impact on carbon emissions.
For which other applications do you see further potential to increase the use of UV/EB solutions?
Bown: Our initial focus remains on the coil coatings segment in construction, which represents 70 % of our business. We will push and support our customers to increase the market share of UV/EB solutions in that segment. But we see potential for coatings used for domestic appliances. There are as well opportunities in the coatings for ACE segment, but it is limited to only some components and not on a large scale as it is for the coil segment. Nevertheless, we believe that UV/EB solutions are the highest impact technology for more sustainable coatings.