Bio-based coatings: Small market, full of potential

Bio-based systems account for a relatively small share of the paints and coatings market. This represents about 5 % by sales value. Nevertheless, many industry experts we spoke with are convinced that demand for bio-based paints and coatings will increase.

painting bio-based and sustainable wall
(Source: Sergey Nivens - -

The paints and coatings industry is increasingly training the spotlight on sustainability initiatives, a number of which have been launched all along the value chain. The industry is seeking to reduce environmental pollution by developing new products.

Often, a key element of these initiatives is the use of renewable raw materials for the purpose of producing bio-based solvents, resins, additives and pigments, etc. However, the fall in prices of petrochemical feedstocks in recent years has made it increasingly difficult to introduce renewable raw materials on a wide scale. More and more, the ingredients made from these greener materials need to offer more than simply the cachet ‘bio-based.’ Typically, they also have to provide performance benefits. This is especially true when they are priced at a premium over the petrochemical products they seek to replace, whether directly or in the guise of a new alternative.

Market size estimated at EUR 7 billion

And yet, bio-based paints and coatings find themselves in an absolute market niche. George Pilcher from consulting firm ChemQuest estimates the market for 100 % bio-based systems at EUR 7 billion. At the same time, he predicts that the global paints and coatings market was heading for EUR 141.5 billion in 2018. That would mean bio-based paints and coatings would only command a share of about 5 %. Doug Bohn from consulting firm Orr & Boss sees things in a similar light. In fact, he thinks the market is a little smaller and estimates the bio-based share at less than 5 %.

Market share of bio-based coatings

a) Market size in EUR and market share of 100 % bio-based systems. b) Market size of formulations with a merely higher content of bio-based raw materials

It is even smaller in volume terms. As Gérard Zoller from paintmaker Peintures Robin says, “I have no concrete figures to work on, but my gut feeling is that it could be about 1 % of the total market.” Dr. Markus Lettau from paintmaker Auro agrees that this is a realistic ballpark figure. However, Laura Willemsen from raw materials producer Croda believes that the volume could be slightly higher. “At the moment, bio-based paints and coatings only have a very small share of the overall market – our estimate is that they account for 1-3 % of the global volume,” she says.

What is a bio-based coating?

BB_Gérard Zoller_Peintures Robin .jpg V

Gérard Zoller, CEO of Peintures Robin expects the bio-based market to grow. He will also speak at the EC Technology Forum | Bio-based Coatings in October 2019 in Berlin.

However, if the focus is widened to include paints and coatings that have been formulated with merely a higher content of bio-based raw materials, then the market can be said to be larger. In this scenario, Pilcher puts the volume at about 10 %, equivalent in value to a good EUR 14.2 billion. At the same time, this reveals the problem of classification, which divides opinions. When is a bio-based coating a bio-based coating? Should this only be the case if it is formulated exclusively from renewable, bio-based raw materials?

The danger with greenwashing is that consumers have a particularly difficult time making informed decisions. The ambiguity in the definitions creates scope for giving the impression that a product is greener than it actually is, despite there being a full declaration made on the label. “A salient aspect,” says Lettau, “is that conventional manufacturers on the market are often unable to keep their promise of using only biogenic raw materials.

Legislation as a driver of growth

Willemsen sees the market for bio-based paints and coatings as a growing niche area. “We expect further growth in coming years due to legislation that will force the industry to move away from existing raw materials and to find alternatives. Legislation is also behind a move to abandon hazardous classified substances. Added to which, there is increasing pressure on industry to reduce CO2 emissions,” she says.

Several market studies show that there is a widening global customer base that is willing to pay for bio-based products, and that will further increase demand for new bio-based paint solutions – Willemsen is in no doubt about that. Klapproth also considers the market to be expanding on the whole.

Bio-based coating market in its infancy

“However, the growth is based more on legislation than on greater customer demand,” he notes. Zoller too is very upbeat about the market for bio-based paints: “This market is still in its infancy because the industry is still unwilling to invest in it, both on the raw materials side and the manufacturer side. However, bottom-up movements emanating from the population, governments and tenderers will push the market in this direction in coming years.” For Lettau, the market is growing steadily, as evidenced also by the fact that conventional manufacturers are engaging more and more with the bio-based raw materials portfolio.

The strongest demand for bio-based paints or natural paints is in Europe, says Fernanda Tavares from raw materials manufacturer Cardolite. Willemsen agrees that Europe is a leader when it comes to innovation and launching bio-based solutions, especially in the architectural paints segment. “The leading markets in Europe are the Nordic countries, the Benelux region, Germany and France, where there is a growing cohort of consumers who prefer bio-based products to traditional products,” she says.

By Damir Gagro

Event tip

Some of the mentioned experts like Gerard Zoller will speak at the EC Technology Forum | Bio-based Coatings in October 2019 in Berlin.

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