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Seeking recession-proof solutions

Paint and coatings companies invest in sustainable solutions during hard economic times.

By Sean Milmo

Published December 3, 2008
During the recession, which is already hitting large parts of Europe, there will still be growth sectors in the region's coatings market some of which will be driven by new government regulations.

One of these will be coatings helping to make buildings more energy efficient, which is the subject of legislation both at the level of the European Union (EU) and among many of its 27 member states.

Also, despite the recent sharp fall in oil prices, householders are becoming increasingly aware of the need to find ways of curbing the costs of heating and cooling their homes because of the prospect that in the medium to long term energy will be expensive.

Coatings companies in Europe are hoping that the current push for greater energy savings will be a major impetus behind the sales of some of their products.

In planning research and development projects, AkzoNobel has developed the concept of "eco-premium" solutions in which energy efficiency is a key criteria within an overall sustainability strategy.

"Sustainability is key to our core strategies and we aim to be the sustainable solutions provider for our current and potential new markets," said Andre Veneman, AkzoNobel's sustainability director. "While our mainstream products comply with the highest applicable environmental standards, our eco-premium solutions are increasingly in demand by our customers."

The company has recently introduced in Europe, under the name Dulux Light & Space, wall paint based on patented pigment technology, which reflects up to twice as much light around a room. As a result it saves up to 20% of the energy of the room's lighting while making small rooms look and feel more spacious compared to those coated with conventional emulsion paints.

The biggest potential for energy saving coatings in the construction sector will be in paints which help insulate buildings, particularly those which contribute to reductions in heat loss through walls, roofs and windows.

There could also be a rise in demand for coatings, which keep heat out of buildings during the summer months by reflecting solar rays off roofs. But outside of southern Europe, there is less need for these "cool roof" coatings in most of Europe due to the cooler climate.

Prospects for sales of insulation products have been considerably boosted by recent EU legislation on energy performance of buildings to help its reach by 2020 calling for 20-20-20% reductions in energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and share of renewable materials. The building sector is the largest user of energy and the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the region, accounting for 40% of energy consumption and of CO2 emissions.

In November the European Commission, the EU Brussels-based executive, announced proposals to tighten up on energy regulations on buildings, particularly existing homes. While new buildings can need less than 3-5 liters of heating oil per square meter of floor area per year, existing buildings require on average 25 liters or even as much as 60.

"The biggest change suggested by the Commission is that regulatory upgrading of the energy efficiency of building should apply to all buildings," explained the commercial manager of one European insulation products company. "Under the current legislation it applies only to buildings of over 1,000 square meters, which make up less than 20% of the total building stock."

Both at the EU and national levels, governments are switching their attention from new buildings to the need to raise the energy efficiency of older ones. In many European countries governments are offering homeowners a range of financial incentives from grants, low-interest loans and tax exemptions to invest in improving the energy efficiency of their homes.

A steep fall in the construction of new homes and buildings has enabled more resources to be directed into the renovation of existing homes.

"In Finland a large proportion of houses were built in the 1960s and 1970s," said Jarkko Mattila, manager for insulation products at Tikkurila, the Finnish coatings company. "These houses are now in need of repair and at the same time there is an opportunity to put in insulation. A lot of repair work is being done now because previously there has been a shortage of skilled building workers due to the demand for new houses. Now that the new building market has slowed down there are more workers available for renovation jobs. The need to reduce energy consumption will push demand for insulation products. This growing market should continue to hold up next year."

Insulation technologies, which have not made big inroads into the European market, are now benefiting from a surge in demand. These include polyurethane insulation spray foams which also have thermal heat barrier coatings and because of new spray equipment innovation are themselves applied like coatings.

"In 2007 the (spray foam) market in Europe grew at double-digit rates in comparison to 2006," said a spokesman for Bayer MaterialScience, a leading maker of polyurethane foams. In 2008 growth will probably turn out to be a bit more moderate, particularly in the last months of the year."

One insulation segment, which is catching the attention of coatings companies and raw material suppliers is glass coatings for windows, which over the last few years have become a fast growing market. As much as 40% of heat in a home can be lost through windows during the winter.

"The EU's energy efficiency regulations are changing the market and providing increased opportunities for coatings on glass," said Phil Brown, regulatory marketing manager at Pilkington plc, St Helens, England, a leading European producer of flat glass.

"Governments across Europe are looking at ways of introducing rules stating that if an improvement is made in one part of a house other improvements have got to be made in other parts as well," he said. "If, for example, the walls are insulated, then coated windows should be installed as well, otherwise the householder will not be entitled to government energy efficiency grants."

Glass coatings are becoming increasingly sophisticated with several layers of metal oxides, which absorb or deflect heat being applied to the substrate. The formulation and application of these coatings is dominated by glass manufacturers. Currently they are using vacuum or sputtering technologies based on the use of hot or plasma gases to coat the glass.

Coatings companies and chemical suppliers see openings in the market. There are opportunities, for example, for using low temperature technologies, which will enable the introduction of materials able to achieve even lower heat emission levels through windows. Glass coatings could be one of a number of new insulation markets for coatings companies in Europe.

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