Water-borne coatings in the industrial sector

Water-based coating systems are still in vogue and their share is constantly increasing. However, there are also areas of application, such as industrial maintenance and corrosion protection, in which the proportion is very low. Nevertheless, industry players expect further growth for water-borne paints.

Water-borne coatings in the industrial sector. Image source: pichitstocker - stock.adobe.com

The demand for water-based paint systems has increased continuously over the last decades. The environmentally compatible systems have become more and more important due to regulatory requirements and the demand from end users. Especially in the segment of architectural coatings, the share of water-based systems is relatively high at over 85 %. In the industrial coatings segment, the share of water-based paints and coatings is less than 10%.

In the industrial maintenance and repair (IM) and corrosion protection (PC) segments, water-based coatings also play only a small role. The market research and consulting company Orr & Boss has taken a closer look at the market. Consultants Doug Bohn and Marten van der Meer estimate the global market size in volume at 2.14 billion litres and in value at EUR 13.2 billion. Water-based coatings and paints account for only 6 % of these segments – 135 million litres in volume and EUR 793 million in value.


From a regional perspective, Asia is the largest market for water-borne coatings in terms of the segment’s maintenance and repair and corrosion protection, although only in absolute terms. Orr & Boss calculated a volume of 1.52 billion litres worth EUR 8.3 billion for the entire IM and PC market. However, water-based systems only account for 5 % of the volume with 78 million litres and 4.7 % of the value (EUR 395 million).

In Europe, on the other hand, there is a significantly higher proportion of water-borne systems used in the area of maintenance and repair and corrosion protection. At 11.6 % by volume, the share is more than twice as high as in Asia. In terms of value, too, the share is twice as high and comes to almost 10 %.

For North America, Orr & Boss determined a similar picture of the market. There, the water-based alternatives also account for almost twice as much. Water-borne systems account for 10 % by volume and 9 % by value.

In the Middle East and Africa, water-borne systems for maintenance and repair and corrosion protection have a share of 6.5 % (volume) and 5.8 % (value). In South America, water-borne systems account for 4.6 % by volume and 3.9 % by value.

In high-end applications

Orr & Boss divide the market for repair and maintenance and corrosion protection into two segments. In one, they classify paints in the high-value and mid-range segment, and in the other they classify paints in the lower segment, the low-end systems (both in terms of price and requirements). An example of a high-quality protective coating would be coatings used on an offshore oil platform or other application in a highly corrosive environment. A low-end application could be coatings used on equipment in a light assembly or light fabrication plant where little or no corrosive chemicals are used, but where a certain level of durability and protection is still required.

Within the market for coatings in the high-value and medium segment, the market share of water-borne systems is around 3.5 %. In the market segment for low-end coatings, the share of water-borne systems is estimated at 8.7 % of the market.

For Europe, Orr & Boss estimates the share of water-borne coatings at 4 % of the market for repair and maintenance and corrosion protection in the high-value and mid-range segment and at 21% of the market for low-end coatings.

According to the consultants, water-borne systems are often used in lower-end applications that do not require high performance and require environmentally friendly products. Power generation, infrastructure and industrial plant applications are the key segments where water-borne coatings are used. To meet environmental regulations, many applications also use high-solids coatings.

Industry players expect further growth

The main challenges for the use of water-borne coatings in industrial applications continue to be performance related. Specific requirements include corrosion resistance, weathering and UV resistance as well as adhesion to a variety of surfaces, such as steel, aluminium, plastics and composites.

An additional challenge can be the general sensitivity of applications that are performed under extreme environmental conditions, such as high humidity or low temperatures. While there are many examples where water-borne coatings perform as well as their solvent-based counterparts, water-borne systems exhibit lower fault tolerance under less ideal application conditions.

Bas Hesselink of Akzo Nobel believes the market is a growth market and the use of water-based systems is increasing worldwide in specific sectors and for broader end-uses. “VOC reduction is the driving force here. But there is also a growing demand for water-based products as a credible and suitable alternative to solvent-based options for low to medium corrosion protection on shore,” says Hesselink.

According to him, opportunities are clearly visible in China, North America and parts of Europe, driven by new VOC legislation and/or air quality measures. “As water-based systems have improved their performance and robustness over the last decade, they are becoming a viable alternative to traditional low solid, high VOC coatings for a growing number of applications. As more and more infrastructure projects are also geared towards sustainability, the use of water-based systems can also contribute to programs such as BREEAM and LEED,” adds Hesselink.

Monica Li Aviram from paint manufacturer Hempel also sees the requirements of end customers and legislators as a growth driver: “We are seeing increasing customer demand for water-based systems. Particularly in regions or countries such as Europe and China, where stricter VOC laws are forcing customers to choose more sustainable solutions to significantly reduce VOC emissions”.

Svend Haugenes from Jotun also sees a market limited in size. “Due to regulatory compliance, its growth is expected, especially now in China. We also see green building standards such as LEED driving the need for lower VOC products, with water-based products being the solution.”

Challenges remain

Haugenes expects further potential to arise in the area of buildings that are oriented towards environmentally friendly construction standards and applications that can be carried out in a controlled environment such as EMI.

Monica Li Aviram predicts higher demand wherever stricter VOC regulations are difficult to meet with current solvent-based systems. “As Hempel, we offer low VOC solutions based on various technologies. Water-based paints and coatings are particularly suitable where coatings with low layer thicknesses are required and can be applied in the factory, i.e. in a controlled environment in terms of temperature, ventilation and humidity,” she says. This is where they face the biggest challenges.

Aviram gives top priority to applications where the application takes place outdoors and the temperature, ventilation and humidity cannot be controlled. For these applications, she believes that alternative solutions with low VOC content, such as high-solids or even solvent-free coatings, are the better choice. The same applies to applications where high coating thicknesses are required. Haugenes’ assessment of the greatest challenges for the use of water-borne systems sounds very similar: “For me, it’s maintenance work, since it takes place predominantly in uncontrolled environments. Water-based coatings are inherently more sensitive to temperature and humidity conditions and could therefore have a disadvantage.”

Bas Hesselink is constantly monitoring developments in the field of water-based paints and coatings, with new raw materials regularly becoming available as the trend towards lower VOC content continues in all industries and countries. “We expect progress in coatings for medium and light end uses, as the performance of water-borne products is similar to that of traditional solvent-based coatings. One challenge that the industry continues to face is the cost base of raw materials, as the use of such systems is still relatively low – we will have to see a wider adoption of water-borne coatings in order to reduce costs through economies of scale,” says Hesselink. For higher performance requirements, ultra-high-solids or solvent-free coatings are making great strides in terms of efficiency and, according to Hesselink, could be the preferred options of users in the heavy-duty sector.

The biggest challenges for water-based coatings are still the conditions for curing and the high-performance requirements – high humidity or low temperatures are of course a hurdle, as are the immersion conditions. “The maintenance of offshore or coastal installations will therefore remain extremely demanding, both from a performance standpoint and in terms of application. One challenge that processors could also face is the cost of switching from solvent-based to water-based, low solids content equipment, as some investment in equipment will be required – for example, for climate control – and these changes can only be viable from an economic point of view if they are driven by legislation,” Hesselink concludes.

By Damir Gagro

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