Business has been off this year, but new materials are here--some with astonishing color effects or outstanding preservative qualities
Paint is a colorful business. by adding flash and pizzazz to everyday items, paint provides more than just protection from the elements. And paint's no small business. The U.S. paint market--about 20% of the global paint market--had sales last year of more than $16 billion.
Strong housing and automotive markets drove U.S. paint shipments last year. According to the Census Bureau, paint shipments rose more than 6% compared with 2001, to 1.3 billion gal, though the value of sales hardly changed.
But for this year, consultants say paint shipments are likely to slip compared with 2002. That means tougher conditions not only for paint formulators, but also for suppliers of paint raw material. Still, there are some bright spots where new materials provide benefits to paint users and may offer a profitable edge to formulators who adopt them.
ALL MIXED UP Xfast pigments can be stirred directly into water-based systems without the laborious processing needed with traditional pigments. BASF says coated hollow granules disperse quickly and evenly.
Automotive markets typically benefit first from new color technology as competition between the major paint makers and the marketing demands of car makers help push along the latest advances. C&EN looks into the color revolution beginning on page 25.
CONSUMER CONCERNS over sick-building syndrome are fostering interest in the specialty biocide additives that keep paints free of mold, mildew, and algae. Sensitive people complain of allergic reactions to these organisms, and proper treatment of painted surfaces can reduce the problem in homes and offices. Beginning on page 29, C&EN looks at these biocides, which are also useful in marine paints that reduce the cost of keeping seaweed and barnacles from fouling ship hulls.
But notwithstanding the bright spots, 2003 is shaping up as a lackluster year for the paint industry as a whole. Shipments of titanium dioxide, a harbinger for the coatings industry, are down 8% for the first nine months of this year, according to Jim Fisher, president of consulting firm IBMA. The falloff for this essential opacifying pigment indicates a less than robust paint market. And price increases recently announced by pigment makers are "more of a signal that price slippage has stopped," Fisher says. Don't expect increases until next year, he adds.
Wet summer weather in the Northeast dampened architectural paint sales, and a weaker than expected economic recovery means that industrial paint sales are also off. Expect sales of industrial maintenance paints to be off 2 to 3% in 2003 compared with the previous year, asserts Jay Wilner, president of consultants WEH Corp. "No one is building new industrial plants," he says. "There is no need to add capacity now. In the rare instance when there is need for additional capacity, installations are going in overseas."
Despite years of environmental pressure to reduce the volatile organic compound (VOC) component in paints, solvent systems are still king, comprising 47% of the U.S. paint market, according to Steven Nerlfi of consultants Kusumgar, Nerlfi & Growney. Government pressure to reduce the contributions these systems can make to ground-level ozone formation (smog) has reached its limit, he says. Most formulators have either substituted acceptable solvents or reduced solvent content to produce acceptable high-solids paint systems.
However, not all government authorities believe that VOC reduction limits have been reached. Robert Nelson, senior director for environmental affairs at the National Paint & Coatings Association (NPCA), says California's South Coast Air Quality Management District, which includes counties in the Los Angeles Basin, "keeps squeezing" paint makers for further reductions.
The agency is now demanding that liquid coatings such as wood stains, sealers, and roof coatings contribute VOCs of only 50 g per L by mid-2006, down from 100 g per L now. Several East Coast states are seeking similar VOC reductions in paints, and in one instance NPCA has started litigation to keep Delaware from putting new limits into effect.
The expense of reformulation continues to put pressure on paint makers, especially since VOC limits vary in different parts of the country. Where Phil G. Phillips, president of Chemark Consulting Group, counted 975 paint formulators in 2000, he counts only 895 today. Bigger paint formulators have the means to survive. Many smaller "mom and pop" paint makers are being forced out of business, Phillips says.
Consolidation has also hit material suppliers. Akzo Nobel, for instance, plans to sell its coatings resins operations. BASF is concentrating its European powder coatings business in Italy and discontinuing product development and manufacturing in Münster-Hiltrup, Germany.
Dow Chemical, a major paint materials supplier since its acquisition of Union Carbide, snagged a competitive opportunity in a tough market when it acquired Celanese's acrylic acid and acrylates business for $170 million in September. The purchase back-integrates Dow's UCAR Emulsion Systems business, making it a stronger acrylic emulsions competitor to Rohm and Haas and BASF.
Despite consolidation among more commodity-oriented material suppliers, new materials are always coming out to improve paint performance. For instance, Solvay Caprolactones Business Manager Jeffrey Neidinger says his firm's caprolactone monomers and polyols add enhanced hydrolytic and light stability, abrasion resistance, and excellent low-temperature performance to automotive clear-coat and aerospace applications.
And one materials supplier is developing an additive with a performance profile the Pentagon could love. Reactive Surfaces, a year-old start-up firm, is commercializing a proprietary enzyme that, when added to latex paint, decontaminates organophosphorus nerve agents that contact the paint surface. According to DeAndra Beck, the firm's chief executive officer, the enzyme is expressed by a gene that company founder C. Steven McDaniel discovered as a biochemistry graduate student at Texas A&M University.
The enzyme additive--called OPDtox--degrades nerve gas agent vapors that settle on painted surfaces. All that is required, Beck says, is the presence of carbon dioxide and water to start a reaction that turns the nerve agents into nonlethal by-products. The enzyme is not consumed in the reaction, she says, and OPDtox-painted surfaces have remained active in ongoing tests so far for 14 months. Military applications include airplane and vehicle interiors, trailers, barracks, and decontamination shelters. While OPDtox won't prevent harm to people exposed to nerve agents, it will mitigate exposure to first responders and aid the rapid cleanup of contaminated facilities.
Most paint materials don't offer such death-defying stunts. But Reactive Surfaces' additive shows what research and a colorful imagination can bring to a business that many perceive as ho-hum.
Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society