Smart Money is on Smart Coatings
Enlisted by the military, tended by the medical field, and built up by the construction industry, smart coatings have a brilliant future.
Indeed, "staggering" growth is ahead for the global smart coating industry: a 49.50 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) that will rocket the market from about $0.4 billion in 2013 to about $6 billion in 2020.
That's the view from NanoMarkets' new Worldwide Smart Coatings Market: 2013-2020, which is pinning much of the immediate growth on three industries: military, medical and building.
Both the military and medical fields are hungry for cutting-edge coating technologies that fill novel functions—and, most important, are in a position to pay for them, the report notes.
Both the military and medical segments "are not price-sensitive and are likely support research activities in the smart coatings space," the report says.
Demand in the construction space will also push growth, as the building industry looks to new coatings in the service of energy efficiency, cleaning and maintenance advances.
Smart coatings are formulated with unique chemical, physical, mechanical or electrical properties that respond to light, electric current, pressure or other stimuli. Such coatings can be customized to act in different ways under different conditions.
Their promise marvels. But, the report notes, they don't come cheap.
A chief developer and consumer of smart coatings is the military, which sees them as a cost-efficient way to reduce its multibillion-dollar annual tab for corrosion-related maintenance of infrastructure and vehicles. From weapons to warships, the military is engaged in a multi-front war on corrosion.
(The Department of Defense invested more than $63 million in 88 projects in fiscal years 2005 through 2010 for new technology or methods to address equipment-releated corrosion, the Government Accountability Office reported recently.)
BAE has been developing a smart "electronic ink" technology to help shield military vehicles.
New coating technologies are also answering the military's call outside the realm of corrosion protection.
Camouflaging coatings, for example, are expected to provide cost-effective and efficient camouflaging solutions for military vehicles and uniforms, the report says.
Harvard University is working on a new camouflage coating that can help equipment hide from thermal sensors.
A new stealth coating that helps hide subs from radar just took a prestigious award is now being used by the Australian Royal Navy, and the UK's BAE Systems is developing a similar coating that helps render tanks invisible.
Biosensing coatings, once commercialized, "will serve as proactive intelligence systems that indicate the use of bio-weapons and can prevent military personnel from accidental exposure to invisible toxic airborne substances," the report adds.
Scientists in Australia have developed an award-winning coating that helps shield Navy vessels from detection by radar and sonar systems.
Meanwhile, naval anti-fouling regulations will boost the push for copper-free coating solutions for commercial purposes as well.
Coatings are also hot in the medical field, where they are being developed to create barriers for microorganisms, provide antimicrobial surfaces, improve drug-delivery systems, protect medical uniforms, enhance surgical equipment, and extend the life of temporary implanted medical devices.
NanoMarkets foresees the biggest opportunities for antimicrobial smart coatings in the healthcare industry, given the rapid increase in healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) worldwide. Many antimicrobial and bioactive coatings have been based on silver and copper, but concerns have been raised about the safety of hazard, and that technology may lose favor.
Coatings that can enable the controlled and timed release of drugs are also in high demand. Still in the early stages, but a field worth watching, is the use of smart coatings to increase the effectivness and accuracy of diagnostic devices.
"NanoMarkets believes, however, that once commercialized, such coatings will find application in a wide range of diagnostic systems from endoscopy devices to real-time patient monitoring systems," the report said.
Building Better Coatings
Smart coatings have gained key importance in recent years as energy-saving technologies.
In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped volunteers mark the one-millionth square foot of white reflective coating applied to city rooftops.
Demand for self-dimming windows (provided by window coatings) in new residential and commercial buildings is expected to surge, eventually reducing the cost for these specialty items.
(Retrofitting for self-dimming windows will probably remain prohibitively expensive, the report said.)
Their good electrical conductivity, chemical resistance, high transparency and enhanced anti-reflectivity position smart coatings to help the global energy industry improve its efficiency, the report says.
Meanwhile, smart coatings for the photovoltaic sector provide anticmicrobial and self-cleaning properties that extend the life of solar panels.
Promising research into self-healing coatings for concrete—the world's most common building material—is also actively underway. These hydrophobic coatings contain microcapsules that release a sealing polymeric material when damaged.
|Dr. Pilar Mateo|
New insecticide-laced smart architectural coatings are helping to deflect deadly diseases in villages of Africa and Latin America.
Corrosion-protection coatings will also be a hot growth area in building and construction, as major industrial facilities seek to reduce repair and maintenance costs. Other new coatings promise increased durability and UV protection to structures.
According to NanoMarkets, firms to watch in the smart coating space include:
Emerging players include Balcony Systems Solutions Ltd., NanoShell, CimaNanoTech, New Energy Technologies (NET), AnCatt Inc., Hardide Coatings, Research Frontiers Inc., and Debiotech SA.
Corrosing-sensing coatings have a bright future in the automotive sector and in military vehicles, vessels and aircraft, but may not emerge commercially until nearly 2020, the report says.
De-icing and corrosion-sensing coatings are also gaining prominence in the airline industry, with commercialization maybe five years away.
Optical coatings for sensors and mirrors, color-shifting coatings, tire coatings embedded with sensors to signal loss of traction and nanoceramic coatings that can prevent marring of paint surfaces are all ahead.
"NanoMarkets believes that many of these smart coatings will be commercialized within the next five years," the report says.