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International Coatings Scene



Published December 7, 2005
International Coatings Scene
Europe

The future of waterborne coatings

Waterborne coatings seek to gain favor, however they still face stiff challenges moving ahead.

By Sean Milmo - European Correspondent


Producers of waterborne coatings in Europe are still struggling to persuade many of their customers that waterborne paints are as good as—let alone better than—solvent coatings in terms of value for money.

Some coatings users, particularly in the industrial coatings sector, are holding back from switching to waterborne, despite the introduction of tough new European Union (EU) legislation on solvent emissions.

A solvent emissions directive (SED) which applies to automobile manufacturers and other industrial sectors is already being enforced throughout the EU’s 25 member states. This is being followed by a new EU regulation covering emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from decorative paints and automotive refinishes, which is due to start being implemented from 2007.

The objective is to reduce VOC emissions from the two groups of coatings by more than 40% or around 280,000 metric tons by 2010.

A move to waterborne from solvent-based paints has been considered to be one of the best options for achieving compliance with the two pieces of  legislation.

However there are still concerns among coatings customers about the quality and cost effectiveness of waterbased of paints. So user companies are investigating alternative solutions such as high-solid, solvent free coatings.

A recent report on the Western European coating resins market by Information Research (IRL), London, found that in the industrial coatings sector that there is “still a long road ahead for research” to bring the performance of water-based coatings up to the level of that of their solvent-based counterparts.

“The main performance areas of water-based coatings technology in the industrial sector which need to be addressed are durability and weather-resistance,” said Terry Knowles, an IRL consultant. “In some sectors such as wood finishing—where water-based coatings have made good headway and now account for 16% of the market–better drying behaviour is also sought after.”

In order to win over skeptical customers to the advantages of waterborne coatings,  promotional and educational drives are necessary in both the decorative and industrial paints sectors, according to IRL.

In the Western European industrial coatings market, IRL estimates water-based coatings still account for only 14.5% of consumption in volume terms. This is ahead of powder coatings at 12.8% and radcure at 2.6%, but behind the solvent-based types of low/medium solids at 51% and high solids at 16.9%. Ultra-high solids represent another 2.2%.

Besides having certain technical drawbacks, waterborne coatings are also handicapped by the relatively high costs of their ingredients, such as acrylic, epoxy and polyurethane  resins whose prices have been pushed up by the steep rise in crude oil costs. Polyurethane system for waterborne coatings were already considered to be expensive before the oil price hikes.

“The priority for coatings formulators is to find ways to bring down costs, yet they are finding that resins for water-based paints are getting more expensive,” said Knowles. “Costs are becoming a barrier to the expansion of waterborne coatings  and are making the task of wooing customers even more difficult. Meanwhile competing technologies are doing well. Powder coatings are holding on to their share. In the race to become the most popular VOC-compliant system high solids seem to be winning at the moment in Europe.”

To be sure of matching  the rheological performance of solvent-based coatings, waterborne paints ideally need to have polyurethane thickeners to provide the same ease of application and film-building and levelling properties. But with raw material costs pushing up polyurethane costs even further, formulators have had to look at other possibilities.

DSM NeoResins, a specialist in resins for waterborne coatings which was part of Avecia before it was taken over by DSM in February this year, has endeavored to lower the costs of polyurethane systems through the introduction of hybrid technologies. It has combined polyurethane with cheaper acrylic components in single waterborne dispersions through careful design of the particle and film morphology. It claims that the urethane/acrylic hybrids are both less expensive but also have high levels of chemical and stain resistance as well as the mechanical properties of  advanced coatings.

Polyurethane producers argue that the increases in the prices of their systems in waterborne paints are similar to those in other coatings. The rises have also been lower than in other sectors.

“Within the coatings market our price rises  are the same for waterborne as for solvent-based paints,” explains a marketing executive at one leading polyurethanes suppliers. “In other segments like foams and plastics, polyurethane prices have been going up by more than 50%, which has not happened in coatings,” Knowles said.                                                                                                          

“It has to be accepted that with modern coatings like waterborne systems polyurethane materials will be more expensive because their development costs have to be recouped,” she continued. “They may be more costly per kilogram but when the whole coatings process is taken into account they can save money  because of factors like less paint being required, easier cleaning and lower investment costs. As a result demand for polyurethanes for waterborne paints is still growing at around 6 percent annually in Europe.”

Technologically, waterborne coatings have been proving themselves to be as good or even better performers than solvent-based paints. Consequently in technologically demanding sectors like automobiles, waterborne coatings have been making  big inroads into both the   finishing and refinishing segments.

BASF Coatings developed a waterborne basecoat system for passenger cars 15 years ago, well ahead of the current EU legislation on VOCs. It has not only been accepted by the automotive industry as being reliable with high product qualities but has also been found to be economical because of reduced consumption of material, time and energy during the coating process. The company has also introduced VOC-compliant primer fillers and clearcoats.

A big challenge for BASF has been to convince owners of car refinishing bodyshops about the benefits of waterborne coatings so that they are able to comply with EU legislation on VOC emissions by the deadline of 2007. It has been running training courses for approximately 15,000  bodyshop personnel which avoid PowerPoint slides in favor of active participation.

“Our customers’ time is too precious to spend sitting around dozing off,” stated Urban Johansson, head of the BASF’s Coatings Refinish Academy which conducts the training. “Our academy has developed a new seminar concept that will allow spray painters and body shop owners to get as much as possible out of the courses.”

BASF says it is now confident that by the beginning of 2007 all its bodyshop customers in the EU will have transferred to waterborne technology. Already 90% of users of its refinishing coatings in Germany have moved over to waterborne together with significant  proportions of  its refinishers in the UK, The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries.


Latin America

Brazil’s paint market is expanding

Auto exports and housing should accelerate growth in 2006.  

By Charles W. Thurston - Latin American Correspondent

The Brazilian market for paint and coatings—as well as the overall national economy—expanded more slowly during 2005 than in 2004, but both the market and GDP are poised to accelerate by at least a percentage point in 2006, according to projections by analysts and industry officials. Higher automotive exports, a government drive for more housing, and continued industrial expansion should help all segments of the Brazilian paint and coatings industry grow in 2006.

While growth for the industry this year was pegged at three percent and GDP growth is predicted at 3.4%, GDP is projected to rise in 2006 to 4.4%. Traditionally, the paint industry grows more rapidly than GDP, according to Dilson Ferreira, the executive president of ABRAFATI, Brazil’s national paint association, based in Sao Paulo.

With such growth, the estimated 950 million liters of paint produced this year, worth more than $1.5 billion, will come closer to the one billion liter mark in 2006. The strengthening of the national currency will encourage more raw material imports, but will make exports more difficult to the U.S. It is predicted that the real will have improved from 2.93-to-one U.S. dollar in 2004 to 2.46-to-one this year, and projections are for a 2.38-to-one average exchange rate in 2006, according to the Latin American economic analysis team at UBS Warburg, led by Michael Gavin, in Stamford, CT.

The architectural segment in Brazil accounts for more than three-quarters of the total paint and coatings market, and housing demand will keep the segment growth vibrant. The government of President Luis “Lula” da Silva, and his social program-oriented Workers Party, is dedicated to developing more affordable housing, and plans to spend up to $6.9 billion per year in the effort over the foreseeable future. With a population of 175 million, Brazil now has a housing shortage of about seven million units, even though nearly one million units may be added this year. The effort to build more affordable housing also is being assisted by multinational entities like the World Bank, which in June approved a $500 million program to help expand housing in Brazil.

The automotive sector also should help drive demand for more paint in Brazil this year, though the segment accounts for only about eight percent of consumption by volume and about 17% by sales value, including new and after-market uses. While domestic auto sales have been strong at about 7.5% over the first 10 months of 2005, exports were up by over 30% to nearly 700,000 vehicles, and brought in $9.3 billion over the 10-month period, according to the Brazilian auto manufacturers’ association, ANFAVEA, based in Sao Paulo. Major U.S. auto manufacturers have invested heavily in Brazil, led by companies like Ford, in Bahia state, seeking to tap lower wages and establish a globally-competitive production center.

Brazil’s already sizable industrial complex is still growing, with massive new investments in transportation infrastructure, primary industries like steel, and the petrochemical industry. While industrial production growth is predicted to have slowed this year to 4.9% from 8.3% last year, the projection for 2006 is a healthy six percent, according to Gavin.

While market growth in the paint and coatings industry in Brazil struggles, quality and technology initiatives are forging ahead smoothly. Brazil now has six companies qualified under the Coatings Care program, fostered by the U.S. National Paint and Coatings Association. Tintas Universo became the latest adherent in September, joining ICI Packaging Coatings, Montana Quimica, PPG, Sherwin-Williams and Tintas Coral.


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