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Self-Build Technology vs. TiO2

By Tonino F. Margani, EVP of Science & Environment, Nobilis

For the last century, titanium dioxide (TiO2) remains the immutable material in paint and coatings. Naturally occurring, finite, and without a synthetic substitute, its opacifying effects are irreplaceable (whiteness and refractive index value). Paradoxically, these same benefits produce negative outcomes in both economy and environment through high cost in formula and carbon footprint intensity. Rooted in traditional formulaic solutions unable to control the effect of diminishing returns that TiO2 inherently yields, chemists can only load so much before the benefit-to-cost ratio becomes untenable.

An article in PCI from January 7, 2022 by Dr. Michael Diebold, a former Research and Technical Fellow at Dupont and Chemours, emphasizes this inherent behavioral truth; “The opacity benefit of TiO2 decreases as TiO2 levels increase, and there is an upper limit where adding too much TiO2 can even become detrimental to the overall light scattering power of the paint. In such cases, the only way to achieve complete opacity is to increase the thickness of the paint film.”

A new technology in advanced light scattering and TiO2 optimization generates a novel universal coatings system for multiple substrates and market segments. Coined “Self-Build Technology™,” this method maximizes efficiency to the core utility of paint and coatings (opacity) under which all sub-utilities and benefits reside. It uses an exclusive mechanism of action at point-of-standard application wherein paint molecules compound onto themselves like magnetic anchors in real time, yielding equivalent or better film build (and all typical required results) of multiple coats from traditional coatings, but without ever the need of a primer or a second coat.

Product, Font

While traditional coatings are good at and focus on adhesion to a surface for improved core performance, they shift, move, and wash around before drying to an incomplete finish. This is followed by layering additional coats, repeating the application process until unconditional opacity is achieved wherein all peripheral benefits of a full system then fall effortlessly in line (sheen, texture, color, and durability). This is the convention of using coatings. It is important to note that the only uncontrollable component of a coating’s purpose is opacity, and this is because it cannot be tamed in formulation using current methods.

Concept & The System Profile

The concept asks the question, “If conclusive opacity (the hallmark of knowing when to stop painting) is realized through a user’s typical labor – multiple coats layered onto each other but over the time of a traditional coating’s application process – painting and drying, painting and drying, etc. – how can these layers, and therefore complete results, be achieved in real time?”

An extension of the originating thought experiment was to refer to the optical behavior of sodium chloride (NaCl) under purposeful manipulation. In its static position, NaCl maintains a refractive index of 1.54, which when observed through even the most basic objective lens of a microscope, would clearly display its true transparent nature. But when many grains of NaCl are clumped together (mechanism of action), the material is now opaque. So much so that placed on top of a drastic color base, light cannot penetrate through the sodium particles to the underlying color, and scatters the same way it does through sufficient film build from opacity on a substrate. More impressively, the latter is using TiO2 that maintains a refractive index of 2.61, and yet still requires multiple coats to perform using traditional approaches.

This innovative method uses thin-film building to achieve opacity by not only adhering to the surface, but also to itself through an exploitation of outdated surface tension techniques. Achieved in production through a shearing effect, paint molecules become ‘magnetized’ by a distinct treatment and sequencing of raw materials relative to each chemical packet (additives, pigments, water, binders/resins) that abrade with sensitive, but proven, mixing processes. Despite this exclusive result, 90% of all raw materials in the system are used by manufacturers around the world with typical equipment requirements both in production and lab. This method uses two thirds less TiO2 yet achieves two- and three-times opacity of any traditional architectural coating system. This is because the mechanism of action at point of application acts as a counterpoint to the absence of excess TiO2.

To maintain and improve performance, the method had to be adaptable to industry’s current infrastructure by way of how manufacturers produce, and how users consume, paint and coatings. The system profile can be described as a common water-based single component, but with extreme durability and scrub counts approaching 10,000 on the ASTM D2486. It is a non-viscous product in the 85-ku range with ease of flow and application, despite approaching solids of 70%. It is no odor with very-low-VOC and non-spatter that can be produced in multiple sheens. Most intriguing is the tint system. There is one tint base that acts as white and can be tinted down to deep medium tones (85-90% of all color sales) and there is a base for accent colors. The method accepts any tints and matches any color. Compared to the SKU matrix and costly proprietary tint systems of any other product line, some up to seven tint bases, this simplification is further argument towards real, practical sustainability through the supply value chain.

Self-Build Technology has been transferred into seven architectural coatings serving their specific market segments. These product systems range from interior and exterior decorative, new construction, industrial, and commercial coatings. More recently, through arguably the largest field test in history, over 150,000 gallons were produced, marketed, and sold through traditional channels in North America and internationally. With over 15,000 unique end users, the system has proven successful in a wide range of geography, user type and practical real-life conditions.

These measures de-risk the technology and provide social proof that large-scale market-sized batches can be produced. That the raw materials can be sourced with consistency, and, most importantly, that the varied customer base of traditional coatings through distribution, retail, and end-user type not only welcome these results, but have come to expect them. The technology continues to be transferred into additional product systems, growing the platform to serve additional market segments. What’s more, a push towards the only next-best improvement has commenced – zero TiO2. A full technical report is being prepared for international trade presentations, as TiO2 is the cornerstone of the entire $235B USD annual market, responsible for 50% consumption of the global inventory each year.

TiO2 Alone Controls Sustainability

In October 2017, at the outset of the European attempt to classify TiO2 as a carcinogenic category 1B, the EC Journal published a seminal article of a theoretical study performed by chemists at AkzoNobel on industry’s reliance: “Titanium Dioxide: Ruling Opacity out of Existence? They demonstrated this by using zinc, which is considered the next-best material. The result required many-more coats or layers to achieve equivalency.

This study further illustrates the standard formulaic approaches, many through industry collaboration that have not succeeded in optimizing the potential of TiO2 for opacity. Traditional attempts included adjusting viscosity, rheology, dry time, increased solids, 2K systems, saturated tints used at point of sale, particle sizing and spacing, and synthetic polymers, all of which provide similar or worse opacity.

Optimization has long been a salient conversation. What began as discussion among those in the trade on technique at the raw material level, is now inclusive of varied stakeholders with a vested interest in the practical influences of TiO2 through the supply value chain. This is where the novel method has its real impact as it brings with it the opportunity to offset as much TiO2 in coatings as is currently possible. This simple shift in system approach can solve the economic, and arguably more important, the sustainability image of an entire industry that cannot formulate around its effects. Chemours, a leading producer of TiO2, found in a recent poll that “63% of coatings professionals identify balancing sustainability and cost as their greatest challenge to advancing sustainability in their coatings design.” While industry stakeholders admit the end game, achieving it with such dependency looming over its head is seemingly impossible.

Sustainability used to be about VOC control, and that took a generation to trickle down before the end user began to understand its value. Today, the environmental conversation hinges on carbon footprint and waste, and does so among the most-educated and awake consumer base in history as it pertains to aligning environmental image and goals with the paint and coatings they purchase.

Synonymous with how manufacturers maintain their public image, top producers like Hempel base their entire message on concepts like “detaching growth from our environmental footprint.” And while this notion supports the reality that the most environmentally friendly coating can only be the one you use the least of, there isn’t a palette of products on the market that supports their distant future desire.

A precursor to modern day marketing for the “greenest image money can buy” is what governments used to promote as the Extended Producers Responsibility System or EPRS. In its infancy it was an attempt to curb post-consumer wastes, which grew to become an initiative by manufacturers to run the costly and fledgling reuse and recycling system using a consumer-financed model of eco-fees. But when looked at through the lens of Self-Build Technology and its controls over TiO2, and therefore the industry’s entire carbon footprint, EPRS can revive a somewhat-forgotten inclination to not only control wastes after end-user consumption, but before it, from the starting point of raw material extraction.

The influence of this control over the systemic hyper problem that is TiO2 goes well beyond a single raw material. For if we control TiO2 then we control all materials that orbit around this core ingredient. Like the planets in our solar system around its sun. By reducing TiO2 to the minimum required, the simplification of the supply chain occurs naturally, and all peripheral materials and necessary key resources in additives, resin, water, fillers, energy transport with emissions, and packaging containers automatically reduce to their minimum. That is the power of this particular control; it can actually shrink supply chain consumption in all excesses and prevent maximum life-cycle wastes before they begin. This is the path to real climate-tech coatings. This is the path to pure ESG solving the global megatrends of sustainability, a path rooted not in a manufacturer’s self-marketing and image, but in its core purpose – its production.

As important then are the sustainable repercussions for all adjacent industries and customers of paint and coatings. By giving them the gift of a minimized eco-footprint as added incentive, we can approach environmental stewardship unlike the past. We cannot expect customers to pay more to be eco-friendly, but should rather reclaim the responsibility of achieving this on their behalf. This is the only way forward for sustainability, by actually connecting it with innovation sincerely.

The Industry's Choice

Many new industries are moving in this imperative direction, such as robotic automation for on-site new construction through such companies like Nova Spraytec in Germany. This is an obvious solution towards maximum efficiency to help save in economy and environment. More incredibly, Chemours has been actively engaging its customer base by promoting the message that using less TiO2 is better for the environment, even at the company’s expense. And Arkema Specialty Materials in holding conferences on supply chain sustainability is taking the lead in the conversation within its tier.

As it stands, all stakeholders are seemingly held hostage by the need for TiO2, while at the same time being challenged by consumers and environmental agencies. But unless the industry can hedge against it using a real-life substitute, the challenge will be met with impediment. The simple fact is that architectural coatings, with the exception of the move from oil to latex in the 1950s, hasn’t fundamentally changed in a century. No coincidence that this is a timeline shared with the advent of TiO2 refinement and mainstream use.

In closing, I echo the sentiments in the paper “Transformational Thinking: Innovating for the Future” by George Pilcher of The ChemQuest Group, wherein he strengthens the ideal that for the industry to truly innovate, it must not do so gradually, but rather act on a spark through transformational thinking that has the power to change how we look at coatings and processes forever. In doing so we can re-calibrate the relationship between people and paint.

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