The global coatings market is expected to reach $107 billion by 2017, according to a 2012 study by Global Industry Analysts. Reporting on the study, the Adhesives & Sealants Industry trade journal says by 2017 the industry is expected to be producing 8.7 billion gallons of product. Key drivers of growth in the market are the global economic rebound, rapid industrialization in emerging economies and increased demand from such sectors as automotive and construction.
As is the case with the other markets for bio-based products I’ve discussed in previous articles, perhaps the most compelling environmental driver behind biopolymer adoption in the coatings business is a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the lifecycle of the product. Adhesives & Sealants Industry says there has been a “recent demand spike for environmentally friendly coatings,” leading formulators to invest in “technological advancement in the area of non-hazardous chemical feedstocks.” (See my previous pieces on bio-based materials in the packaging and automotive industries and in the market for disposable materials.)
Besides the environmental benefits, manufacturers see bio-based materials as a hedge against the volatility of pricing and supply for petroleum, which provides the conventional feedstock for polymer manufacturing. Adhesives & Sealants Industry reports,
The prices of raw materials used in the formulation of coatings have been rising in recent years. While the prices of raw materials, such as acrylic acid and resins, have been oscillating in tandem with crude oil prices, the price of titanium dioxide rose by around 5 percent. In addition, prices of other raw materials that are in short supply have been witnessing price rises in relation to increasing demand.
Coatings should offer “an easy way” for bio-based plastics “to drop into supply chains,” says Lux Research Inc., in its report “Bridging the Divide Between Demands and Bio-Based Materials.” Paint and manufacturing-related coatings “represent opportunities in the single-digit billions,” says the firm. The architectural coatings segment, an even larger market, is under pressure to produce low-VOC (volatile organic compound) products to meet health and safety requirements, so bio-based materials have an opportunity there as well.
Lux identifies acrylic acid as a crucial target for bio-based materials. Acrylic acid is an important building block for acrylic resins, used to impart hardness, tackiness and durability in plastics, coatings and adhesives. Currently, petroleum-based propylene is the usual starting point for acrylic acid. So far, production of bio-based acrylic acid is “negligible,” says Lux, although firms such as Myriant, Dow and BASF are making moves toward the market. About 4.5 billion tons of acrylic acid are currently produced worldwide, according to an announcement from BASF.
Acrylic Acid Goes Bio-Based
OPX Biotechnologies, of Boulder, Colo., has partnered with The Dow Chemical Company to produce BioAcrylic, a bio-based acrylic derived from sugar feedstocks. Dow is the largest producer of petroleum-based acrylic. According to OPX, petro-acrylic constitutes a $10 billion global market and is used in products as diverse as paints, adhesives, diapers and detergents. The company is now producing BioAcrylic at large demonstration scale and expects to begin commercial production between 2014 and 2016. OPX says its pilots demonstrate it can produce BioAcrylic at 30 to 50 percent lower cost than current petro-based acrylic, with a 75 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. An announcement from OPX quotes a Dow executive as saying the company “is interested in bio-based products that are economically competitive to petrochemical-based products with equal or advantaged performance qualities.”
Chemical company BASF is teaming with agricultural giant Cargill and Danish industrial biotech firm Novozymes to produce a bio-based acrylic acid. Novozymes and Cargill had already worked together to develop microorganisms that can convert renewable feedstock into 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP), a precursor to acrylic acid. BASF says it joined the collaboration to contribute its expertise for the crucial step of converting 3-HP into acrylic acid.
Renewable chemical manufacturer Myriant, headquartered in Quincy, Mass., currently manufactures a bio-based succinic acid, a versatile chemical that is used in many applications, including plastics, coatings and pigments. Myriant currently has bio-based acrylic acid in its product pipeline, soon to enter the pilot phase, the company says. Rather than using food-based feedstocks like corn or sugarcane, Myriant’s development efforts are focused on cellulosic biomass as feedstock. An announcement from the company says its new bio-acrylic acid will be “chemically identical” to petro-derived acrylic acid. Myriant believes that “As worldwide supply of propylene becomes ever more constrained and pricing volatility persists for petroleum-derived chemicals, demand is increasing for the production of acrylic acid from cost-competitive, renewable feedstocks.”
While acrylic acid is a key development target for bio-based coatings materials, companies are finding markets for other plant-based chemicals in this sector.
Croda International Plc, based in East Yorkshire, UK, makers of naturally-based specialty chemicals, offers a line of bio-based monomers and polymers targeted at the coatings and polymers market. Croda’s products are developed to provide environmental benefits for industrial, automotive, protective and decorative coatings, while delivering good performance characteristics. As an example, the company promotes it Priplast polyester polyol as a component for water-based polyurethane industrial coatings. Priplast and Pripol, another polyol, are marketed as building blocks for ultraviolet- (UV radiation) curable coatings, a fast-growing market area. These polyols are based on dimer fatty acids derived from tall oil, a by-product of wood-pulp manufacture. Croda says dimer fatty acids “offer good flexibility that improves shrinkage behavior of polyester, epoxy and polyurethane based radiation curing resins.” Pripol can also be used to formulate powder coatings that can be cured at lower temperatures than conventional products.
Given the growing importance of corporate sustainability, the pressures for companies to reduce the life cycle GHG emissions of their products should continue to drive the search for bio-based alternatives to the petroleum-derived chemicals so ubiquitous in supply chains.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the fourth in a series on how bioplastics are being used throughout the manufacturing industry. You can read the rest of the series here:
- Part 1: Bioplastics are Getting a Toehold in the Packaging Market.
- Part 2: Do Bioplastics Have a Place in Automotive Manufacturing.
- Part 3: Disposables a Natural for Bioplastics but Infrastructure Needed.
- Part 5: Bioplastics Can Find Diverse Applications in the World of Intermediates
- Part 6: Biomaterials Greener But Still Have to Compete on Price and Performance.