Much of the architectural coatings market in Europe is in the doldrums at the moment because of a slump in the region’s construction sector stemming from a general slowdown in its economy.
During the first quarter of this year, European sales of decorative paints of AkzoNobel, the region’s decorative market leader, were 6 percent lower than a year ago, indicating that demand could becoming even weaker. In the last quarter of 2012 they went up 2 percent while during the year as a whole they fell by 1 percent.
Nonetheless the architectural coatings sector in Europe has hopes for a much brighter future in the longer term because of two recent pieces of European Union legislation. These both aim to make buildings, which account for 40 percent of the region’s energy consumption, much more energy efficient so that the EU can meet its objectives for greater energy security and big cuts in CO2 emissions.
First there is Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which was due to be incorporated into the statute books of the EU’s 27 member states last year. It requires that all new buildings should have ‘nearly zero-energy’ consumption by 2020, while incentives are provided to encourage increases in the energy efficiency of existing buildings.
The Energy Efficiency Directive, which was approved late last year and is scheduled to start coming into effect in 2014, requires member states to draw up long term strategies for channelling investment into the renovation of the national stock of residential and commercial buildings, both in the private and public sectors.
Experts are predicting that the two measures, if properly implemented, will trigger a big revival in the depressed European construction industry which in turn will considerably boost demand for architectural and decorative coatings and other construction products.
“The construction market and its suppliers like coatings and materials producers have suffered a lot from the recession,” said Adrian Joyce, campaign director of Renovate Europe, a Brussels-based group backed by coatings and construction materials companies which is campaigning for greater energy efficiency in the EU’s building stock.
“In 2012 construction activity in the EU was 11 percent below what it was in 2008 before the recession, while the building of new houses has dropped by 80 percent in unit terms,” he added. “An investment program in energy efficient buildings would be a tremendous economic benefit to the EU construction sector and its suppliers.”
The impetus behind a growth in demand for decorative and architectural coatings from an investment program would be even stronger if their appeal to their purchasers was less centred on colors and surface textures.
Instead they would need to be bought not just for their aesthetics but also their functionalities, in particular their ability to help reduce the energy consumption of buildings.
“Functionalities will take a more important part in architectural coatings,” predicted Marie Bleuzen of Dow Coatings Materials in France. “People will decorate their walls not only to bring color but to do something (more).” Among these additional benefits will be the warming or cooling of rooms, she added.
However the EU legislation on lowering the energy consumption of buildings has had a slow start, mainly because of the reluctance of governments at a time of austerity to allocate more money for renovation and other measures.
The vast majority of member states have not transferred the EPBD legislation into their own law, although the deadline for the EU-wide implementation of the directive was last year.
One of its key requirements is that EU countries should introduce systems for certifying the energy performance of individual homes, details of which would be available to buyers in the housing market. This is seen as a major incentive to homeowners to invest in improving the energy efficiency of their properties.
Coatings and coatings materials companies are hesitating to commit themselves to the relatively new segment in the market because of the apparent lack of enthusiasm among governments.
“People are, for example, delaying R&D initiatives in architectural coatings,” said one source in the coatings sector. “It is inevitable that there will be a need for new technologies for smart coating once the energy efficiency market takes off. But we need to see what the trends in the market will be. We don’t know yet whether there will be regional differences in demand between the cooler northern and warmer southern parts of Europe.”
Until the EU legislation starts to have a major impact, one option among coatings producers has been the wider application and improvement of existing functional coatings technologies.
Among the most prominent of these has been the use of ‘cool pigments’ to reflect infrared (IR) solar radiation from building surfaces, particularly roofs, in order to curb heat build-up during the summer months.
IR reflective cool coatings were first introduced in the 1990s with a limited color range. Now a lot of development work has been directed at giving them a greater aesthetic attraction to complement their functionality by broadening the variety of their colors.
Huntsman Corporation launched, earlier this year in Europe, a titanium dioxide-based pigment designed to increase the infrared solar reflectance properties of a wide range of color coatings while providing energy efficiencies from heat control. “The pigment delivers a unique set of benefits—tailored solar reflectance from a single additive and in almost any color customers need,” said Robert Portsmouth, Huntsman’s business development manager in Europe.
Another strategy has been to develop the properties of insulative coatings for architectural applications. Normally these use glass and ceramic spheres to reduce the thermal conductivity of paints.
Cabot Corp. has been marketing in Europe a range of highly thermally insulative coatings (HiTICs) for buildings based on silica aerogel particles, which deliver over a third less thermal conductivity than the existing insulative coating technologies.
Possibly the biggest long-term potential in energy efficient coatings will be achieved by those that actually generate their own electricity. There are already a number of R&D projects in European universities on the use of nano-scale structures within coatings for solar energy conversion.
One of the biggest research schemes in solar energy coatings in Europe is a £20 million ($30 million) joint academia-industry project in Wales, which is majority funded by the UK and Welsh governments. BASF is the main coatings partner with AkzoNobel and Beckers playing a lesser role.
The partnership, called SPECIFIC for Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Coating, already has a pilot plant applying to steel and glass sheets a photovoltaic coating with nanostructured dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs).
The objective of the scheme is to start creating within the next few years a new UK £1 billion industry which will provide glass and steel coatings for buildings sufficient to generate a third of the country’s total renewable energy target by 2020.
Renovate Europe reckons that as a result of the gathering strength of the energy efficiency drive the total value of the building renovation market could at least double in the medium to long term from €400 billion ($520 billion) to €800 billion a year. Suppliers of advanced energy efficiency coatings will be in a good position to benefit substantially from that growth.