Low- and Zero-VOC Coatings

By Kerry Pianoforte | May 14, 2007

Paint and coatings companies must continue to address VOC content in order to remain competitive.

Although the increasing demand for low- and zero-VOC coatings is primarily driven by widespread environmental regulations, growing consumer awareness by DIYers and the green building movement are also contributing to its growth.

"There are four main integrated market drivers for low and zero-VOC paint," said James Bogdan, manager of sustainable design and green building initiatives for PPG's construction market team. "The established USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) and its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system has provided a standard to provide a higher quality indoor air environment for building occupants. With the acceptance of LEED, low- and zero-VOC products are being specified by the architects and interior designers.

"There are federal, state and local regulations that have required manufacturers to minimize the VOC content in their paint; regulations such as SCAQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District), OTC and the National AIM," Bogdan continued. "With the promulgation of these regulations, paint and coating manufacturers have had to address VOC content to maintain competitiveness."

In addition, Bogdan cited technological advances in waterborne coatings and growing consumer awareness as key drivers. "Waterborne has taken the place of alkyd without jeopardizing performance," he said. "Consumers are becoming more astute with their purchasing power and deciding on products that have less or no environmental impact."

The Clean Air Act provided the impetus that has led to toady's current regulatory environment, according to Tim O'Reilly, business manager for primers and clear finishes, Zinsser. "All government facilities are buying low-VOC coatings and major corporations have also taken up the charge. Fortunately technology seems to be stepping up to the challenge."

The push towards low- and zero-VOC paint and coatings products is coming from regulators who want to get a handle on overall air pollution, according to Angela Cunningham, category manager for mold and mildew prevention products, Zinsser. "Additional pressure is coming from the green building movement, which is not as strong as the pressures of the Clean Air Act, but also has an impact."

Consumers "Go Green"

As a result of increasingly strict environmental legislation, the average consumer, who previously may not have been aware of low- and zero-VOC coatings, are becoming more aware of these environmentally-friendlier options.

"For the past two decades growth was driven by architects, designers and healthcare facilities," said Jeffrey Spillane, senior manager professional products, Benjamin Moore. "Consumers are now looking for alternatives to typical coatings."

In addition, in the commercial painting market things such as LEED and Green Build, both in the public and private sector are driving the need for zero- and low-VOC coatings. "All three of these factors are working together," said Tom Dougherty, director of brand marketing for PPG dealer and store brands. "No matter where you look, whether in the general public, private sector or government, you see initiatives that are either directly or indirectly affecting the need for zero- and low-VOC products."

"Consumers are increasingly label conscious and tech savvy thanks to product launches like the compact fluorescent bulb," said Barbara Hershfelt, senior brand manager, Masterchem. "These types of bulbs have helped everyday consumers understand how simple, inexpensive changes in the home can impact the environment. These trends will continue for some time as the country's interest in global warming and ecological sustainability continues to grow."

Impact of Green Building

While all the companies Coatings World spoke with agreed that environmental legislation was the number one factor driving growth in the low- and zero-VOC coatings sector, the jury is still out on whether the green building movement has had as much of an impact and will continue to gain momentum.

"The green building movement will continue to build steam, although it does have a cap," said O'Reilly. "Cost pressures will minimize how popular it will be. Green products cost more and for a builder it ultimately becomes a cost issue. Builders are faced with competition to keep costs low.

"Green building is a 'feel good' movement," continued O'Reilly. "It's not driving growth and still represents a low percentage of the market."

However, according to Hershfelt, green building is not a fad. "Most of the world's largest retailers have made a commitment to offer environmentally responsible products and sustainable lifestyles," she said. "This dynamic change in approach is here to stay."

There are many statistics and projections of growth for building green that have been provided by McGraw-Hill Construction and the USGBC, and according to Bogdan, the trend will continue. "More construction projects are utilizing green features, and I dare to say in 10-20 years, green or sustainable construction principles could become building code," he said. "The benefits for building green are too great to ignore, or not incorporate into construction projects.

"Green/sustainable construction is the future," he continued. "The great thing about this movement is that it is dynamic, meaning that green standards will continue to evolve and be revised to stay ahead of mainstream designs and product offerings, requiring innovation and product technology to also advance. With such advances, the environmental benefits from designs and products will greatly improve."

According to Dougherty, the green building movement will continue to build steam as interest in green building is not just coming from one place. Environmental agencies, the public and environmentalists are all interested. "For progressive companies that are willing to do the R&D work, it will push us towards better environmentally friendly coatings," he said.

Spillane agreed that the movement will definitely continue to grow. "Our Eco Spec, low VOC/low odor product has experienced double digit growth for over a decade," he said. "Many architectural firms are now only specifying green products for new construction, such as LEEDs certified buildings."

In the past, purchases of low- and zero-VOC coatings were primarily made as a result of architectural specifications. Today with the proliferation of information on the advantages of greener products, DIYers are increasingly buying these types of products as well.

"As a result of environmental regulations, ultimately all of our customers will be buying low-VOC coatings," said Cunningham. "As we improve on our water-based technologies it makes more sense to distribute the product nationally if the product is meeting or exceeding performance demands."

"There are real benefits to moving to water-based coatings," said O'Reilly. "Technology is being focused on water-based technology. Virtually everyone who is buying paint is buying lower-VOC paint."

Technological Advancements

The primary function of solvents in interior latex paint is to improve application properties, specifically application temperature and film thickness control. Historically water-based paint and coatings have not performed as well as their solvent-based counterparts. As a result of technological advances, that is simply no longer true.

"Advances in polymer and material technology have made it possible for PPG to offer a complete line of both low- and zero-VOC products, that are available in all sheens," said Paul Wilson, PPG technical director. "These products are high in quality and have excellent stain resistance and scrub durability and clearly perform as well as their higher VOC predecessors."

"Progressive companies who have taken the challenge seriously have come a long way," said Dougherty. "You used to have to give up performance when working with low-VOC paint. This is simply not the case anymore. Pittsburgh Paint Pure Performance Paint was the first national brand with Green Seal Certification. It performed as well as traditional interior latex paint. We have continued to improve our low- and zero-VOC technology and extend it to our other lines. PPG now offers stains and exterior water-based products. We have been aggressively working to reduce VOCs in all our products."

The challenge now is to spread the word that users no longer have to sacrifice performance when using low- and zero-VOC coatings.

"In general, the perception in the industry is starting to go away that when you go down to low- or zero-VOC that you have to give up something in performance," said Dougherty. "Some of the heavy alkyd industrial maintenance products and exterior products for low temperature application still present a challenge due to application and coalescence issues. By and large, because of a lot of effort and focus in most product areas we can now offer low- or zero-VOC alternatives without giving up performance attributes."

"A lot of emerging technologies do meet performance requirements as well as environmental regulations," said Cunningham. "We are coming to the plate with a lot of technologies that meet these needs. There are pros and cons to using low-VOC products. This whole push toward low-VOC has pushed the paint industry to develop products that meet and exceed requirements. It is a trade off. The resin technologies have come a long way for water-based paints. Performance characteristics on our water-based products include better adhesion, color retention, durability along with improved application characteristics. Our finish coatings do have a self-priming capability and as R&D continues, water-based paints will also continue to improve."

"An ongoing challenge is replacing oil-based products for general-purpose priming where it is not specified to use VOC," said O'Reilly. "Getting professionals to believe in these low-VOC products is where the growth is going to be."

"The issues that we continue to improve through research are related to improving the application properties at extreme temperatures that might be encountered by painters on the job site, specifically, 35F as well as 100F," said Wilson. "The broad temperature tolerance does reflect actual use conditions across North America. Our goal is to be sure that customers have a consistent reliable experience with our products and that we deliver the performance they have come to expect with PPG products."

Greener Products

Benjamin Moore's new Aura paint is available in all of the company's 3,300 colors. It offers full washability in any sheen, maximum hide in all colors and one-hour recoat time.
Benjamin Moore's latest offering is Aura waterborne interior paint. "Aura is our newest innovation. It is a super premium interior coating, which is exceedingly environmentally sensitive, and meets the most stringent VOC regulations in the country," said Spillane.

PPG has recently launched a new line of interior products for Pittsburgh Paint and Olympic Paint. The Olympic Paints include Olympic Premium Interior Latex paint that is zero VOC and Olympic Classic Interior Paint that is very low-VOC. Pittsburgh Paints just introduced Manor Hall Timeless Interior Latex and Grand Distinction Interior Latex, both super-premium performance paints at very low VOC.

Pittsburgh Paints has also introduced new exterior latex paints at very low VOC with Manor Hall Timeless Exterior. New low VOC SunProof and SpeedHide are forthcoming.

For exterior stains, PPG offers Olympic Maximum and Ultra Advanced stains, as well as Pittsburgh Paints SunProof stains.

In response to industrial maintenance applications demanding higher durability, PPG has also developed a water-based two component polyurethane, Durethane WB, and polysiloxane coatings, PSX 700, that are both low VOC. PSX 700 has urethane-like performance without polyisocyanates.

PPG has also expanded the Pure Performance line. "Additionally, Manor Hall, our premium and Manor Hall Timeless, our super premium lines are both low-VOC, as well as latex and acrylic oil sun-proof stains. The bottom line is that nearly everything we are developing from a new product standpoint is low- or zero-VOC," said Wilson.

Masterchem has reformulated many of its products, including KILZ original primer, to lower its VOC content.
Masterchem Industries has reformulated many of its products, including its flagship products, KILZ Original primer and KILZ 2 Latex, to develop lower VOC offerings. "We continue our efforts in developing technologically advanced and ecologically sustainable products that our customers have valued so highly for so many yearsfrom superior stainblocking to small environmental footprints," said Hershfelt.

Zinsser has been busy developing new products and new product ideas to solve coatings problems. "Our lab for the past two and a half years has been busy shaving VOCs off of almost all the products we make," said O'Reilly. "We wanted to make a single product nationally available wherever possible, so it has to meet the toughest South Coast regulations. We are focused on developing low VOC products for the national market. We're in front of the VOC regulations. Our flagship lines are all formulated for national distribution.

"In addition, about two years ago RPM brought Zinsser and Rust-Oleum together under common leadership," said O'Reilly. "We now have 140 chemists for high performance niche coatings. We now have some very unique expertise under one company. We're approaching our customers as a unified group."

As the use of zero- and low-VOC coatings becomes more common, coatings companies will be challenged to develop products to meet the demands of this competitive market.

"I believe zero- and low-VOC has become mainstream," said Bogdan. "If there are market opportunities for low- or zero-VOC, I project factory applied paints and coatings for equipment and exterior materials will start requiring zero- or low-VOC content to eliminate their facility emissions and to minimize hazards in the supply chain. However, what I see in the near future is the progressive elimination of hazardous constituents in favor of bio-based or agri-based feedstock. Green chemistry will become more utilized to eliminate hazards from products so that when the product's functional life has ended, the product has minimal or no impact on the environment."

According to Long, zero- and low-VOC coatings will be used in all of the areas that traditional coatings are used today. "Masterchem's goal is to provide top quality primer and paint products that meet the needs for customers, including green and environmentally friendly products," she said.

"Low- and zero-VOC coatings will continue to be used in a growing number of applications," said Dougherty. "You will see them expand in all areas. As improvements in resins technology continue, anywhere you see demand by force of regulation or customer influence and demand, you will see demand for these types of coatings."

Supplier's Offer Products for Low-VOC Paint Formulation

Suppliers to the paint and coatings industry have been hard at work developing products that will allow the formulation of better performing low- and zero-VOC coatings.

Troy Corporation offers a full portfolio of zero-VOC fungicidal and algaecidal dispersions including three broad-spectrum biocide products designed to protect against marring and premature failure of coatings caused by algal and fungal attack. The U.S. EPA has approved Polyphase 678, 662 and 663 next generation fungicidal and algaecidal dispersions for water-based systems.

Polyphase 678 is a zero VOC, water-based dry film preservative offering full-spectrum fungal control in architectural and wood coatings. Polyphase 678 provides long-lasting protection of wood coatings from fungi, mildew, staining and wood rot, while offering safe handling properties and a very low 27 grams per liter VOC. This low odor product is well suited for both interior and exterior applications. Polyphase 662 is a broad-spectrum, water-based dry film preservative offering protection against marring and premature failure of wood coatings caused by both fungal and algal attack. Polyphase protects exterior wood coatings in climates in which the algal and fungal threats are severe. The product is ideal for use in wood and architectural coatings. Polyphase 663 is a broad-spectrum, water-based dry film preservative offering protection against marring and premature failure of coatings caused by both fungal and algal attack. Polyphase protects exterior coatings in climates in which the algal and fungal threats are severe. The product is ideal for use in wood and architectural coatings, masonry coatings, cement coatings, stucco and additional applications.

"BASF has been very active in developing acrylic latexes to meet the ever-tightening VOC regulations, while maintaining or exceeding current performance properties", said Mario Pschaidt, business manager for architectural coatings raw materials in North America. "Over the last five years, BASF has have commercialized many acrylic latex products that meet the current and pending SCAQMD regulations through 2008 and cover a broad application area, from flat to high gloss. With worldwide capabilities, BASF has been able to develop products to meet changing environmental and regulatory demands across the globe."

"The green movement is driving paint and coating formulators to evaluate and formulate with greener raw materials," said Ray Fahmy, manager, North America, biocides, International Specialty Products (ISP). "In order to assist in their endeavor, ISP has developed a green biocides program, whereby we supply a range of greener biocides for paints and coatings."

ISP's Cleanguard initiative is focused on formulating protective ingredients that address environmental issues by taking hazardous elements out of the mix, while working with active ingredients that are well accepted in the industry. Two Cleanguard products recently introduced to the market are Fungitrol 920 fungicide for dry-film protection and Nuosept 498 in-can preservative.

"VOC legislation is adding more challenges to paint and resins manufacturers globally, compelling them to review existing formulations to adapt to the new laws," said Steve Wilson, marketing manager, coatings, Eliokem. "The VOC reductions require important investments in R&D in order to develop new products."

Eliokem's Pliolite resins for masonry paints are compliant with the European VOC legislation for 2007. Eliokem's Plioway Ultra 350LV resin was designed for odorless solvent-based stain blocking primers. This resin can be formulated below the 350 g/l limit for specialty primers. Eliokem has also launched several grades for low VOC specialty applications including a new resin for VOC compliant water-based porch and floor paint.

Rohm and Haas has been working hard to develop products to reduce VOC content. "One of the more difficult performance properties to achieve with low-VOC coatings is dry-film hardness," said Shruti Singhal, marketing manager, industrial finishes and traffic markings, Rohm and Haas. "This property helps painted surfaces resist marring and sticking, such as in the case of windows sticking to sills or doors sticking to jams. Rohm and Haas has made great strides in this area and is continuing to make performance improvements. The company is offering a number of products to help formulators develop high performance water-based products. These products include Avanse MV-100 acrylic emulsion for high-performance, low-VOC industrial maintenance coatings, which meet new California regulations; Rhoplex ML-300 all-acrylic emulsion for low-VOC interior and exterior flat through satin paint and Rhoplex VSR-50 all-acrylic emulsion for high-performance, low-VOC interior and exterior architectural coatings.

Celanese Emulsions has a number of product offerings for the low- and zero-VOC market. "As an emulsion supplier, our challenges are virtually the same as our customers in that we are looking for ways to create low-VOC products that hit specific targets in both cost and performance," said Holly Seese, Celanese Emulsions. "There are no magic drop-in solutions out there that solve all of the issues simultaneously, but the R&D team at Celanese is at work providing better technical solutions year after year."

In North America Celanese offers Celvolit 1774, a new vinyl acetate/ethylene (VAE) emulsion that addresses both environmental standards and consumer performance standards of durability and low odor. In Europe the company offers Mowilith LDM 1852, a solvent-free, plasticizer-free and APEO-free VAE emulsion specifically developed for the formulation of semi-gloss paint without coalescing agents.

Related Market & Technology:

Related Raw Materials: