Interview: “Industry sees opportunities for titanium dioxide in Covid-19 recovery”
Dr David Lockley: The titanium dioxide industry continues to diligently prepare for the 1 October 2021 compliance date of the EU’s classification of certain titanium dioxide powder as a suspected carcinogen by inhalation. Whilst there is still legal uncertainty regarding how the classification applies, we are confident about our readiness to meet this deadline. It is important to stress that there is no scientific evidence of cancer in humans from exposure to titanium dioxide.
The classification is exclusively based on decades-old rat inhalation study data, which industry believes is of questionable reliability. Venator, together with other titanium dioxide producers in the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association (TDMA), have been very active in developing practical steps to ensure compliance, despite uncertainties in the application of the regulation, and have been collecting data to support its product-classification decisions.
The industry continues to disagree with the scientific and legal basis for the classification. Three legal challenge cases are currently pending in the EU Court of Justice seeking to annul the classification. Decisions in those cases are not expected before 2022. The TDMA will continue to communicate information to and collaborate with downstream users of titanium dioxide. The latest information is available in the news section on TDMA.info.
From your point of view, what trends will dominate the titanium dioxide segment in the near future?
Lockley: The Covid-19 economic recovery will no doubt be a major trend for the titanium dioxide sector. The EU, UK and the US are all looking to make investments in construction or infrastructure which could drive growth in many pigmentary applications of titanium dioxide.
For instance, the EU launched its renovation wave strategy with the aim of doubling the renovation rate of residential buildings by 2030 whilst promoting the resource and energy efficiency of buildings across their lifecycle. titanium dioxide, which is an important ingredient in paints and many construction materials, is a critical component in these projects due to its durability and sustainability. The unique properties of titanium dioxide pigment help to maintain the quality of products for longer. In coatings like paints, it enhances the durability of construction products through its resistance to heat, light and weathering. This means there can be less need to replace construction materials or renovate buildings. The use of titanium dioxide as an ‘intelligent material’ is another trend that is gathering momentum. By altering the physical characteristics of the titanium dioxide we produce, we can extend functionality beyond conventional pigmentary properties. There is an increased interest in the potential of titanium dioxide in hygienic coatings as a result of Covid-19.
Apart from the legislative issues, what are the major challenges facing titanium dioxide producers?
Lockley: The objective of the European Green Deal to make the EU a climate-neutral and circular economy by 2050, presents major challenges and opportunities for all sectors in Europe, including the titanium dioxide industry. It requires the decarbonisation of industrial processes with a need to find solutions at an unprecedented scale. Venator is actively developing strategies for the decarbonisation of our facilities and has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with BP to explore the integration of clean hydrogen into our UK operations at Teesside.
The challenges are significant, but the European Green Deal also brings new opportunities for titanium dioxide – such as the renovation wave mentioned before. Notably, titanium dioxide makes products more sustainable across the lifecycle. It is more effective than alternatives and enhances durability via its protective properties, meaning that fewer resources are needed in a circular economy. Simply put, titanium dioxide is a substance that is fit for the EU’s vision of a safe and sustainable chemical.
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