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Nanotech for Eco-Friendly Paint
Jeremy Faludi, 12 May 05


Ecology Coatings is a startup with a pretty amazing idea: instead of making a paint that cures by the evaporation of solvents within it, make a paint that you cure by shining UV light on it. It's somewhat similar to powder-coating, where a pigmented plastic powder is cooked to polymerize the powder into a hard colorful shell; but powder-coating only works on metals, and even then only items small enough to stick in industrial oven-chambers (i.e. not houses). And besides the new nanotech paint's environmental improvements, it should also offer impressive productivity/cost improvements:

C|Net had a good article on it:

Ecology Coatings essentially replaces a liquid coating, like paint, with a viscous solid. In paint, only about 20 percent to 30 percent of the molecules in the material applied to a surface are actually paint. The rest are carriers or solvents, which evaporate in the curing process. In the Ecology Coatings material, every molecule becomes part of the coating, along with any added pigments or fillers.

"A liquid solid is something that doesn't evaporate. If you spill it on a floor, it will be there two to three weeks later,"... The difference creates several beneficial properties. Paint can take up to 20 minutes to dry. The coatings created by the company dry in three seconds. The change drastically reduces the time and space needed for painting.

UV curing also consumes about 75 percent less energy, thereby reducing electrical bills. [Ecology Coatings's website claims 80%]

As an added bonus, the coatings do not contain volatile organic compounds, found in paint thinners and solvents, or hazardous air pollutants.

It works by 'free radical curing' instead of evaporative curing or heat-based curing: "The molecules each contain a photo inhibitor. When UV light hits it, the light knocks electrons loose from the molecules. In their agitated state, the individual molecules all bind to each other, creating a uniform coating."

Their products should be available in a few months, so we'll hear the real-world scoop soon. ...Just remember to not leave your paint can out in the sun, I guess.

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"The molecules each contain a photo inhibitor. When UV light hits it, the light knocks electrons loose from the molecules. In their agitated state, the individual molecules all bind to each other, creating a uniform coating."

That is not accurate, although the coating will have inhibitors in them the purpose of the inhibitors is to prevent premature polymerization - inhibitors stabilize the system.

Photo-Initiators are used to start the polymerization. Typically the UV light splits a molecule into two free radicals. These free radicals have a very reactive unpaired electron that starts the process of polymerizing the monomers and oligomers in the coating.

This is not brand new technology, UV curable inks, coatings and adhesives have been around for many years. (Many furniture makers use UV curable polyurethane, many labels on consumer products are printed with UV curable inks, ~90% of foam cups are printed with UV curable inks.) The energy and time savings are real. A real advance that is on its way is high intensity solid state UV light sources. They will be much more energy efficient and more flexible than the current UV lights.

Posted by: jim moore on 12 May 05

Hey, thanks for the clarifications.

...So, if this stuff has been around for a while, why is this the first company I've heard of using it to make eco-friendly paints? Did previous versions use nasty chemicals, or something? Or were they too expensive/finicky to do macro-scale stuff like houses rather than smaller-size stuff like cup graphics?

Posted by: Jeremy Faludi on 12 May 05

Why haven’t you heard of the ecological benefits of UV curable coatings, inks and adhesives before? I am not sure, maybe poor marketing.

Health effects – Don’t get it in your eyes, some people can develop skin sensitivity from repeated exposure (some people develop a “poison ivy” type rash). I have used these types of materials for years without a problem, but I do ware safety glasses and gloves. When I get material on my skin I wash the exposed area in a timely manor. If I get UV curable materials on my clothing, I take off the clothing and wash it separately from my other laundry. On the HIMS scale with 0 being a harmless chemical and 4 being a deadly chemical, UV coatings are typically have a 2 health rating.

From looking at the Ecology Coating’s website it looks like their main innovations are around increasing the hardness and abrasion resistance of the coating, while maintaining a low viscosity and fast cure response. It looks like they have found the right way to disperse the right kind of nano-particles in their UV coatings.

Also, it looks like their target market is OEM (original equipment manufacturers) not the architectural (house paint) market.

Posted by: jim moore on 13 May 05

Market penetration of powder coat technology, using UV or other irradiative energy source to trigger hardening is already approaching completeness in the automotive painting segment. Appliancse as well. In part this was driven by USEPA emission control requirements for VOC, pat by overspray waste costs and occumational exposure and partly by the energy savings. However, the slowness of penetration was due to two things mainly: performance and appearance of undercoats and reliability of clear overcoat for automotive applications (Car ownders are notoriously fickle about how things look and stay looking) and high capital costs fo changing from spray to powder coat systems.

Posted by: John Laumer on 16 May 05



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