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Low- and Zero-VOC Paint



An evolving regulatory environment, the green building movement and consumer demand are driving research and development of low- and zero-VOC paint and coatings.



By Tim Wright



Published May 12, 2006
Related Searches: Zero VOC Color Low VOC
Paint and coatings with low toxicity levels are no longer a trend, but rather a requirement that is affecting all coatings formulators. Virtually every paint and coatings company that wants to be at the forefront of current developments already has or is actively working on creating an environmentally conscience line of products.

Several key trends are driving the low-and zero-VOC paint and coatings market including stricter environmental regulations, the green building movement and increasing consumer awareness of the possible health risks associated with exposure to toxins emitted from paint.

"The low- and zero-VOC paint market is driven primarily by legislation in the public sector and secondarily by the 'green conscious' retail sector," said Mark Brower, architectural division manager, Frazee Paint Company, makers of the Envirokote line of zero-VOC products. "In addition, the introduction of state and federal mandates concerning LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified new public building construction and an upswing in the public's interest in maintaining a sustainable environment have all contributed to the market's growth."

With VOC regulations continuously evolving all around, low- and zero-VOC paint and coatings can no longer be viewed as simply niche products, according to Jeffrey Spillane, senior marketing manager, Benjamin Moore, makers of the EcoSpec interior line. "In response to the impending SCAQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District) regulations in California, which for interior non-flat paint drops the amount of VOC to 50 grams per liter, Benjamin Moore is introducing a complete product portfolio that meets these tight regulations by July 1."

While SCAQMD is leading the industry in terms of regulations, the low- and zero-VOC paint and coatings market is no longer just a localized West coast market, according to Spillane. "California implemented the first VOC regulations, which have slowly worked there way over to the East coast and are now filtering through out the rest of the country," he said.

Going into further detail, Dennis Centofante, technical director, Ace Hardware Paint, which is currently at work on the next generation of products to meet the future regulations prompted by SCAQMD, said the low- and zero-VOC paint and coatings market is growing rapidly because of additional states adopting regulatory rules lower than national standards. "An example of this is occurring in the OTC (Ozone Transport Commission) states," he said. "The 13 East coast OTC states have adopted a more stringent rule than federal EPA regulations require."

With the ongoing evolution of today's paint and coatings regulatory environment, a number of different "green certifications" and claims have spawned, which is not necessarily a good thing, according to Todd Braden, vice president of marketing Rodda Paint Company, makers of the Horizon interior and exterior line and YOLO Colorhouse's YOLO interior line. "The differences that exist in the various green certifications and what loopholes they allow for has created a bit of controversy," he said. "Many of the projects that achieve a green designation only look at the VOC levels contained in the products that are used, and not at the performance characteristics or the chemical compositions. I have always tried to illustrate this point by saying that I could go home tonight and mix water, clay and a lead-based colorant together and make low- or zero-VOC wall paint. However, it wouldn't last on the wall very long, and would definitely include some components that were unnecessary and potentially harmful. But if VOCs were all that was being looked at, the product would technically be compliant."

For its certification process, Rodda selected Green Seal, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., which has approved approximately 15 paint and coatings manufacturers to carry the Grean Seal approval logo on certain products. "We worked with Green Seal because we felt it was quite comprehensive in the categories that really matter, including performance, and because it is the certification that is recognized within the LEED document," Braden said.


In January, Robert Redford's Sundance Catalog began selling the Prairie Paint line, mixed from leftover paints, and available in six colors including Hemp, Sky, Moss, Wine, Wheat and White.
While the green building movement is alive and well, it's not overwhelming at this stage. "The green movement is definitely getting a lot more publicity and attention in the media these days," said Spillane. "When Benjamin Moore originally introduced EcoSpec almost 15 years ago, it was marketed as a consumer product, but consumers didn't care. We repositioned it for the professional painter working on occupied spaces such as hospitals, schools and business office environments where daily activity could not be disrupted due to foul smelling paint fumes. Even though it is a small piece of Benjamin Moore's business, each year the demand for these coatings goes up."

For Ace Paint, the DIYer is also a factor in the market. "The low- and zero-VOC paint and coatings market is being driven a little bit by consumers that don't like the smell of paint," Centofante said. "However, cost and performance are two big factors affecting the DIYer's purchase decision. They want the advantages of low-odor and zero-VOC at the same cost and performance level of conventional paint and coatings. Under the pressure of rising raw material prices, most manufacturers face the difficulty of not being able pass those costs on at the retail level fast enough."

When you consider the traditional manufacturing costs to make a zero-VOC coating, they are in line with traditional paint manufacturing technology, according to Dan Sweetwood, director of sales, Allied PhotoChemical. "The expense is not in the equipment, but rather it's in the formulation knowledge, application experience and the time required to gain both, which make these coatings more expensive," he said.

It's Not Easy Being Green



While most major suppliers have a low- and zero-VOC and low-odor product line, zero-VOC as a marketing tool has never caught on and has not shown substantial growth making it a tough market from a raw material suppliers perspective, according to Mario Pschaidt, business manager, functional polymers in North America, BASF. "It is difficult to educate the general public on VOC while also trying to sell paint. Low-odor is easier to sell and is growing in small regions, such as the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. However, the low-VOC market will be forced to grow as paint companies reformulate to meet the SCAQMD regulations. There are also rumors of the OTC regulations changing. There are also the upcoming regulations from the Canadian Department of the Environment and the LADCO (Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium), which may greatly increase the market size for low- and zero-VOC paints."

Overall, suppliers are working hard to meet the needs of companies formulating for the zero-VOC market, but not all of them are working efficiently, Allied PhotoChemical's Sweetwood said. "As a percentage of the overall paint market, the zero-VOC market is still very small," he said. "Many suppliers have a strategy that basically consists of repackaging existing solvent- and water-based products for the zero-VOC market. Usually, the products don't perform as expected. Occasionally we see products developed that work extremely well, but get discontinued when sales don't grow as fast as they hoped. As a whole, I think this segment of the market is still largely misunderstood by the raw material suppliers."

In the last three to five years, however, there's been a lot more development in the introduction of new raw materials such as solvent-free coalescing agents and rheology modifiers, which control flow and leveling properties, according to Benjamin Moore's Spillane. "These new materials enable us to take coalescent solvents and glycol out of a can of paint and still be able to maintain the integrity of the product as far as durability and application properties are concerned," he said.

One way that manufacturers decrease VOCs in their formulas is to reduce the solvent or co-solvent in the coating and increase the resin amount, according to Valerie Johnson, communications manager, Eliokem. "As the VOC requirements are lowered, many producers are moving to water-based products in order to formulate within the VOC range and remain in their organizations core segments," she said. "The challenge is to create water-based products that have solvent-based performance. Increasing the resin amount can be tricky because a high resin content coating can become too viscous and will not permit ease of applications. Special attention is given in the formulating process in order to prevent this from happening."

While water-based products are increasing in popularity, prompting Eliokem to invest a considerable amount of time and money developing latices that will allow producers to formulate within the water-based VOC range for particular applications, solvent-based coatings continue to be in demand due to their penetrating and protective properties and their ability to handle a wide variety of difficult applications, according to Johnson. "For this reason Eliokem will continue to develop new polymers to meet manufacturers needs and to support the solvent-based segment," she said.

Eliokem recently launched a new Plioway resin to allow odorless solvent-based primer producers to formulate under 350 g/l VOC. "This odorless primer delivers all the performance benefits of a solvent-based product including good blocking and hiding properties and excellent penetration," she said. "Odorless paints formulated with Plioway resin contain isoparaffinic solvent. This combination requires a lesser exchange of air to fall within the Occupational Exposure Limit. The number of air exchanges in an hour is three to four times lower than traditional solvent-based primers."

"Our customers are striving to achieve the same performance at low-VOC that the market has become accustomed to at 150 grams/liter VOC," said Pschaidt. "There are two main approaches to this challenge. The first is to use a resin which is engineered to perform at low-VOC and the other is to take an existing paint formula and use additives, such as plasticizers, to make them VOC compliant."

BASF has two latexes for low-VOC paints-Acronal Optive 230 for flat satin house paints and Acronal Optive 130 for satin through semi-gloss paints. Both latexes deliver the performance of 150 g/l VOC paints at 50 g/l VOC or less. Next generation products in BASF's pipeline include those for high-gloss applications.

On the biocide front, International Specialty Products (ISP) has introduced a number of zero-VOC, low-odor biocides, both for in-can and dry-film protection. "These products are based on proven technologies that are well accepted in the global marketplace and not in jeopardy of being regulated out," said Ray Fahmy, North American marketing manager for biocides, ISP. "Through proprietary technology, ISP has been able to reintroduce greener versions of these products to the marketplace."

ISP has introduced a number of new products to address these key market trends, including Fungitrol 920 IPBC-based fungicide/algaecide and NuoSept 498 in-can preservative, which is an aqueous dispersion that is no-VOC, low-odor, freeze-thaw stable, lightly colored and broadly compatible with aqueous systems.

For the future, Ace Paint's Centofante said that there is going to have to be some significant breakthroughs in latex technology from the stand point of starting off with a lower molecular weight material but building high molecular weight just like in an alkyd. "Finding additives that can give a little bit of an edge to get past blocking and softness problems is also a challenge," he said. "The latex manufacturers are having a very touch time developing low- and zero-VOC technology that performs. The main problem is that at the moment the regulations are outpacing the ability of technology to meet the regulations. Customers expect the performance regardless of what the VOC requirements are and they're not able to get that at the price point they can afford."


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