Interview: “The demand for bio-based materials is currently the highest in Europe”
The demand for bio-based materials is growing nowadays. In which application fields do you see the greatest needs for new, bio-based materials?
Dickon Purvis: We indeed see a rapidly growing demand for bio-based materials. Across the entire coatings value chain there is now an understanding that fossil-based feedstocks need to be phased out. This is mainly a result of the negative impact on the environment, but also due to security of supply considerations resulting from the most recent geopolitical developments.
The growing consumer awareness about the environmental impact is one of the key drivers that have led many large brand owners to take their stance and set ambitious sustainability goals involving the use of bio-based materials. We observe a strong demand in DIY segments, for instance architectural coatings. However, especially over the past years, increasing momentum can also be seen in industrial sectors, such as wood coatings. The demand for bio-based materials is currently the highest in Europe.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, the EU Green deal leads to massive regulatory developments towards greater circularity, which advances the transition to bio-based materials. In terms of the availability of bio-based materials: In recent years we have seen great developments and breakthroughs with bio-based materials based on segregated biomass. This resulted in high-performing and more sustainable chemistries such as bio-based acrylic polymers or bio-based isocyanates. I believe that the currently available bio-based materials can be utilised for a significant adoption across various coatings markets. This includes the fast-growing segments such as architectural and industrial coatings but also those that still show a lot of growth potential in sustainable technologies, such as packaging.
Which challenges but also advantages will the change to a higher amount of bio-based materials evolve in the future?
Purvis: It is important to recognise that the bioeconomy competes with a fossil-based supply chain that has been optimised for many decades. In the bio-based materials supply chains, we will therefore occasionally see supply challenges or price adjustments whenever the increase in demand outpaces the availability of supply. For the time being, this is no unusual process for a maturing supply chain and it makes proper planning and risk-mitigation key priorities.
The biggest risk is that these market circumstances invite some companies to ‘wait and see’ how the situation develops, causing a delay of the supply chain development. In the supply chain context, the change to a higher amount of bio-based materials will lead to a continued demand increase and help to bring the supply chain to maturity, meaning a higher security of supply and reduced prices. I’m convinced that a certain amount of bio-based content is going to be a qualifier for most coatings in the future. This highlights the need to re-formulate and further develop entire product portfolios to match the (future) sustainability needs of the market. When aiming for a higher bio-based content, we have to be careful not to use the bio-based content as a sole indicator of sustainability.
At Covestro, we’ve for instance developed a new and safer ‘ultra line’ of crosslinkers with a residual monomer content below 0.1 % and continue to expand our partially bio-based “Decovery” portfolio, that contains safer ingredients and comes with a high level of transparency regarding it’s sustainability profile content as a sole indicator of sustainability. It is important to understand and articulate the entire sustainability profile of a coating (resin). This includes many elements such as the environmental and carbon footprint, sustainable sourcing but also industrial hygiene and productivity. Optimising each of these factors, comes along with their own challenges.
Reducing the carbon footprint may require changes in processes or operations, identifying new sustainable materials and suppliers or receiving crucial feedstock information may prove to be difficult or re-formulating products to match high sustainability needs may require a lot of R&D resources. Because this process is so challenging, I’m especially proud to see many great developments.
This interview is part of the Expert Voices section in the European Coatings Journal. We also asked Toine Biemans of Worlée the same two questions.
The two EC Conferences “Bio-based Coatings” and “Water-based Coatings” will take place this year from 22-23 November in Berlin. Providingthe latest results from research and development as well asstate-of-the-art solutions, they offer impulses for daily work as wellas perspectives from the academic environment.