Energy-saving coatings in buildings could be one of the fastest growing coatings sectors in Europe over the next few years. However, it may not be easy for coatings companies to establish themselves in the segment because of a plethora of regulations being planned by the European Union (EU) to control energy efficiency standards in construction.
The European Commission, the EU's Brussels-based executive, has decided that any material, including coatings, which is claimed by its supplier to have energy saving capabilities must be subject to new standards and to uniform methods for calculating their energy efficiency levels.
"There's going to be a proliferation of rules and regulations which will be confusing to both manufacturers and end-users of energy saving materials and coatings," said an official at one construction materials association. "It will also push up costs for manufacturers because of the necessity to carry out additional tests on their products."
The regulations could also be an extra burden for SMEs and small contractors applying coatings and materials because they will have to provide their own energy saving data to comply with the new rules.
Furthermore some coatings could be put at a disadvantage because degrees of energy efficiency could be measured on the basis of the energy content of the coating itself. Petrochemical-based coatings could be discriminated against because of the relatively high levels of energy already embodied in the product.
Polyurethane foams, which are increasingly being applied as coatings in buildings with new spray equipment are, for example, considered to have a high energy content.
"It is not possible to make a proper comparison on the energy efficiency of different insulation materials on the basis of their energy content per kilogram," explained Oliver Loebel, secretary general of the Federation of European Rigid Polyurethane Foam Association (BING).
"Polyurethane, for example, has a high level of embodied energy per kilogram compared to stone or glass wool or wood fiber but in terms of megajoule per 100 square meters the amount of embodied energy in polyurethane is much lower than these other materials," he said.
The coatings and materials producers want to ensure that their products are treated within the regulations as parts of roofs, windows, floors and other sections of buildings rather than stand-alone entities.
Nonetheless, decorative coatings companies are now finding that they may have to tread carefully if they claim that their products have energy saving functions.
A revised Construction Products Regulation, which lays down uniform health, safety and environmental safety data for building materials throughout the EU, has been extended to cover energy efficiency and heat retention.
"The regulation does not cover decorative paints," said Jacques Warnon, technical director at the European Council of Paints, Printing Inks and Artists Colours Industries (CEPE). "But it does cover energy performance. So if a producer claims that its coating improves insulation it may have to comply with the regulation."
A major legislative initiative is the introduction of a revised directive on energy performance in buildings which when incorporated into the laws of the individual 27 EU member states will tighten up energy efficiency standards not only in new buildings but renovated ones as well. As a result energy savings standards will be applied to the vast majority of EU's entire buildings stock.
Under the new regulation member states will be obliged to actively promote low-to-zero carbon emissions and net energy consumption in buildings.
A revised ecodesign directive is being extended to apply not just to energy-using products such as boilers, water heaters and computers but also to energy related products (ERPs) which, although they do not consume energy, have an impact on energy consumption. These would include windows, insulation materialsand other energy saving products.
Similarly the scope of an energy labelling directive is being widened beyond household appliances and other energy consuming products to include products in the household, commercial and industrial sectors which are able to save energy once in use.
The extended energy labelling law is being strongly supported by glass manufacturers who have been using new coating technologies to make windows much more efficient insulators.
"It will be a powerful tool for raising awareness about energy saving among consumers and contractors," said Bertrand Cazes, secretary general of Glass for Europe, representing flat glass manufacturers. "Our sector already uses certain energy efficiency criteria and standards but they are not particularly consumer friendly. The extended labelling directive will make the data comprehensible to consumers and small contractors to help them make the right decisions."
Energy saving coatings on windows are becoming increasingly complex so that instead of comprising one or two layers they can now consist of seven to eight.
"A lot of R&D is now being conducted into these coatings to meet the specific demands of customers so there can be many different formulations," said one regulatory affairs specialist in the sector. "The number of different coatings is also growing because of the different degrees of control needed on emissions, solar reflectance and onthe amount of light going through the glass. With such a huge range of options, there is a necessity for greater standardization of the various types of coatings."
The coatings are usually made and applied by the glass manufacturers themselves, either during or after production. But with the coatings becoming more intricate, their manufacture and application is being outsourced. Also the coating of the rising levels of imported glass for windows, much of it from China, is being done by specialist applicators in Europe.
The European Commission argues that the new regulations are necessary to harmonize and toughen up existing national rules in EU member states.
They will also help the EU achieve its objective of a 20% reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The buildings sector is the largest user of energy and CO2 emitter in the EU, being responsible for 40% of the region's total energy consumption.
The regulations are due to be approved shortly by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, representing the EU governments, so that they can come into effect in the next 2-3 years."