Redesigning a miracle: sustainable coatings

A group of leading scientists and product makers from industry have the dream to develop paints and inks which are 0% based on fossil materials and 100% environmentally friendly. ARC CBBC has initiated a flagship programme on Coatings and Functional materials. The aim is to redesign coatings in a way that they become more environmentally sustainable. To achieve this, you need scientists and industry to work together on this. In fact, it is pretty hard to redesign a miracle.

Coatings are everywhere. In for example buildings, in the automotive and aeorospace industry, but also in numerous objects for daily use. It protects surfaces and enhances design aesthetics and product appeal. The chemical sector is crucial to support the industrial production of goods and materials that our society relies on. This is also the case for the production of paints and inks. However, the depletion of natural resources, climate change related to our large energy consumption, and an ever-growing demand for high performance products put a societal case for change.

Producing sustainable coatings with renewable bio-based building blocks

Current chemical production processes depend on the consumption of non-renewable feedstocks, both of organic and inorganic origin. The Netherlands have committed themselves to preventing waste streams and making the transition to a circular economy with 100% circularity in the year 2050. For the chemical industry, this comes down to redesigning feedstock choice and material streams, resulting in new-to-develop processes. Since coatings are traditionally obtained from fossil fuel based sources, it raises the challenge to find ways to produce sustainable coatings and functional materials.

Fundamental research to solve chemical problem

So what exactly are ARC CBBC’s researchers and product makers working on to tackle this challenge? Major steps for producing sustainable coatings have already been made. Modern coatings are based on water as a solvent, which prevents the need for organic solvents and makes coating production much more environmentally friendly. Using water provides the opportunity to change the other ingredients too.

ARC CBBC’s research team aims to develop binders from natural biopolymers, such as the lignins from wood or chitins from insect shells. These biopolymers are made of connected sugar units, which can also be interlinked. In fact, one of the problems is that they link up too easily, and you end up with an unwieldy tangle of polymers. That makes it unsuitable for a coating. To get a neat, ordered layer, we need the molecules to connect more selectively, linking up at just the right spots.

To solve this chemical problem, leading scientists and industrial experts from AkzoNobel, BASF and Nouryon, are exploring many possibilities.


Curious to see more of the flagship programme on Coatings and Functional Materials? Watch the animated video below: