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Coatings Scientist: Eye on Innovation


By V.C. "Bud" Jenkins

What I like most about the coatings industry is that it is never boring. Each day promises something new to learn that I didn’t know before. Even the ordinary work of mixing a lab batch to see what it will do as compared to the one before is exciting. Generally, in the lab, we are trying to make the paint dry faster, get better gloss, touch up better, get better adhesion and longer life, etc.

Paint chemists have always been able to innovate ways to solve problems in the marketplace. For example, when painted doors and windows would stick shut, it was a real problem until chemists added a little wax in the coatings formula to make them unstick.

© / saranya

A basic thing that chemists have done for paint formulations is making water compatible with oil.

Floor coatings were very slippery until chemists found that adding just the right amount of aluminum oxide would not detract from the appearance but would give enough grip on the shoes to allow traction but not too much to make a person trip. Coatings for wood paneling composites were made using cross-linking so that formaldehyde would not be released into the rooms.

All these inventions were done while keeping the same look and feel of the original finish, showing what a masterful job a paint chemist can do.

Other innovations include elastomeric coatings that don’t crack over stucco walls, but have breathing ability to keep water from causing blisters when presented from inside the wall. This is a neat trick to keep water out of the house while allowing water vapor to escape through the thick paint film from the inside of the house. Using the right balance of calcium carbonate and the stretchability of the polymer is one way to do this.

Chemists have also been able to reduce the new paint odor by the use of self-coalescing emulsions and perhaps low-vapor pressure coalescing agents that will allow the film to harden with no odor being emitted. Even water reducible alkyds have been invented that not only are sustainable, but have very low odor, dry quickly and stick to everything while maintaining their brushability and flow properties. A basic thing that new innovations have done for paint formulations is making water compatible with oil. This keeps the solvent odor out of the house while not giving up anything in the way of long-lasting beauty.

To be sure there are newer innovations worth mentioning.

Smart Coatings

Smart coatings are becoming all the rage, with self-healing techniques leading the way. I can remember shipping container coatings made in the '80s that smelled like crayons, but were able to flow into a cut or abraded space left when they got banged up from being swung around, which kept the salt water from getting to the steel.

Now, self-healing techniques use reactive cells and other methods to do the job.

The use of self-healing coatings on houses might be good to keep water out from underneath the dry film when it is cut by anything, such as when something you are carrying scrapes against the wall. That becomes an entry point for water and cracks. Bushes such as roses and shrubbery will scratch into the coating during high wind. I investigated a failure of elastomeric paint on a very expensive house and saw that the cuts in the paint, allowing entry of water had been made by the trimming of the shrubbery. Self-healing coatings here would have solved the problem.

This is really important for things like railroad bridges that are out in the wilderness and get cut by flying debris in the wind.  If a gouge is left to the elements, such as water and oxygen, there is rapid rusting of the girders that support the trestle, maybe causing breakaway without any warning.

shipping container
© / shansekala

I can remember shipping container coatings made in the '80s that smelled like crayons, but were able to flow into a cut or abraded space left when they got banged up from being swung around, which kept the salt water from getting to the steel. 

Another area of innovation is superhydrophobic coatings, these developments really demonstrate what can be done with coatings. We have all seen the videos of a cell phone dipped into water with the water running off the cell phone, not penetrating it at all. These coatings will eventually be everywhere; I am interested in seeing this technology utilized in anti-graffiti coatings and dirt-release coatings, especially.

Behind the Scenes

The aforementioned types of coatings are useful to the public, but there are many behind-the-scenes coatings that the public has little knowledge of but they are of maximum importance to making things work. For example, anti-fouling coatings for ship bottoms are important since the original innovative copper oxide ship bottom paint has been found to be too toxic for harbors. Now, new techniques are being developed to make barnacles unable to attach to the slippery bottoms. This will result in clean harbors and non-toxic fish.

white roof
© / ewg3D

Cool roof coatings use metal alloys to reflect infrared wavelengths of the sun while not operating in the visible wavelength zone.

On the architectural side, cool roof coating technology is being used to cool our buildings and combat the Urban Heat Island effect. It is worth noting that these coatings can be a range of colors, not just white. Their mechanism is to use metal alloys to reflect infrared wavelengths of the sun while not operating in the visible wavelength zone. At one time, lawmakers in California were contemplating making all houses use white paint to keep the air conditioning electric usage down. This is a great alternative, to keep our houses attractive while keeping cool. At an environmental seminar I was part of given by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, I mentioned this as a way to use coatings to make the world a better place.

UV coatings are very innovative and eventually they will become more mainstream as people see that they use less energy and can cure without heat. Anti-fogging films can be used by skiers as well as the military. The ice-breaking elastomeric coating that shatters ice because it is a different morphology is a neat invention which will keep aircraft wings from icing up.

Looking Ahead

There are several technologies that have promise for architectural applications. One of my favorites in innovation is the carbon nanotube attached to a buckyball that promises to deliver electricity from a paint film. I hope there is a paint company working on this somewhere because it will result in all of us being “off the grid,” not having to pay an electric bill ever again.

Also, I am surprised that fire-retardant coatings have not taken off in the residential architectural coatings market, specifically, the development of a fire-resistant house paint that would keep houses from burning down. Perhaps manufacturers are afraid of the liability associated. I remember when the city of Anaheim, California, was burning in a very strong windstorm. This was the days of wooden shingles, and the wind would carry the burning shingle over to the next house or even the next block, kind of like a flaming Frisbee. Now, wooden shingles are outlawed, but if they had been fire-retardant shingles, less damage would have happened.

There are even more innovative coatings ideas that are not only being thought of, but worked on and will be put into practice soon. Watch for them!


V.C. "Bud" Jenkins

V.C. “Bud” Jenkins started working in the paint business as a contract painter in 1958 when he was 14, earning 50 cents per hour. He painted everything—cars, schools, hospitals, churches, tractors and motorcycles. This led to employment in the lab of a large paint company in 1963, and eventually to ownership of his own paint-consulting business, Coatings Scientist Consulting Services. Bud is a past president of the Los Angeles Society for Coatings Technology and has served as chairman of several society committees. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a MBA from the University of California, Riverside. A coatings educator, consultant and thought-leader, Bud is dedicated to demystifying coatings science. Contact Bud.



Tagged categories: Coatings; Coatings Technology; Coatings Technology; Coatings technology; Construction chemicals; Education; Technology; Worker training; young professionals; Additives; Coating chemistry; Coating types; Cool roof coatings; Elastomeric coatings; Green chemistry; Green coatings; Low odor

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