In the smart coatings project we work on the development of a greener and more sustainable future by asking ourselves the question what the coating of the future looks like and what it is made of. We do this with the energy transition, feedstock transition and materials transition in the back of our minds. In the realm of energy transition, we developed blue-light activated molecules that can be used to reduce the carbon footprint of the production of cars. The automotive industry is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and has a significant impact on the environment; transport emissions represent around 25% of the European Union’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Increased focus on reducing the carbon footprint of the industry is therefore important, with a particular emphasis on the usage phase by moving towards electric vehicles.
However, as the emissions and energy consumption of car usage goes down, reducing the carbon footprint in the production phase also starts to become increasingly important. In the entire vehicle manufacturing process, the automobile paint shop is the most energy consuming part of an assembly plant. This is because the energy needed for the painting process is strongly associated with the heating of car parts for paint curing, requiring heating of the entire part and not just the thin layer of paint. The most used single component melamine coatings are based on acrylic polyols paired with a melamine cross-linker that requires cross-linking at elevated (>120 °C) temperatures. An attractive strategy towards reducing energy consumption would be photochemical curing, because then only the surface needs to be irradiated. We developed a new class of molecules that cure paints by using blue light. This novel strategy towards curing paints would also help us to use bio-based materials and therefore help in the materials transition.