Company Explores Using Fly-Ash in Paint
Last month, research and commercialization company Vecor Technologies recently presented its work of incorporating fly-ash into materials, including for the paint industry. Fly-ash, a byproduct of burning coal to produce energy, is often considered waste, but can be reused in materials like concrete.
However, another potential reuse of the material could be as a partial replacement for titanium dioxide, which has been impacted by supply chain disruptions in recent months.
Vecor reports that in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the company found itself at a “crossroads” to rethink the direction of its business. Selling its porcelain tile manufacturing facility and closing offices, it redirected its focus on enhancing research and development, as well as broadening product development.
Now, the business is reportedly planning to move its Philippines-based research facilities to Sydney, where it will operate at the Kensington campus of its long-term scientific collaborator, the University of New South Wales.
According to the company’s website, Vecor Technologies’ inventions provide opportunities for manufacturers and distributors to increase profits by substituting alternative technologies which perform better, cost less and are good for the environment.
Of these, Vecor has invented and patented a range of processes and products across a range of industries, utilizing fly ash to make:
With a vision of creating greener products from sustainable practices, as well as utilizing waste and recyclable materials wherever possible, Vecor Technologies, in partnership with the UNSW School of Materials Science, offers products using recycled fly ash and other materials.
Research Translation Expo
The company featured its work at the UNSW’s Research Translation Expo, presented by the UNSW Knowledge Exchange, in October. The University reports that more than 500 visitors explored 100 of the latest innovations and capabilities powered by UNSW across six themes of AI, IT and Digital, Clean Energy, Economy and Society, Environment and Sustainability, Health and Biotech, and Space and Security.
“The paint industry uses large quantities of titanium dioxide. It’s one of the whitest substances on the planet and requires heavy refinement,” Alec Rowan of Vecor told Industry Update.
Rowan added that supply chain disruptions have made sourcing titanium dioxide harder, which is where Vecor’s fly-ash comes in.
“Currently we are developing a ceramic pigment using fly-ash as a partial replacement for titanium dioxide, and we expect to provide the replacement material at a significantly lower cost than titanium dioxide,” he said.
“We also expect to improve the customer’s environmental profile by replacing a mined material with a recycled waste product.”
Vecor is reportedly working with potential customers in the United States to establish demand for its product. It is also working on establishing industrial scale manufacturing processes and continuing product trials.
Rowan reports that Vecor has been working with UNSW academics Professor Charles Sorrell and Associate Professor Pramod Koshy for more than a decade to establish dedicated research laboratories at UNSW to support further technical innovation and product development for fly-ash use and also other product areas.
Fly-Ash Reuse Elsewhere
Back in 2014, scientists from Mexico’s Center for Research in Advanced Materials (Cimav) found a new use for coal ash waste: high temperature coatings. The researchers at the time said they developed nanostructured coatings capable of withstanding temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees Celsius (about 1832 degrees Fahrenheit)—the environment of aviation turbine components.
Inside the turbine's "hot zone," blades, nozzles and other components made of nickel-based superalloys are subjected to "very strong" damage by the heat, which diminishes the turbine's energy efficiency and compromises the structure's thermal and mechanical properties, according to Dr. Ana Maria Arizmendi Morquecho, who is led the research.
“We found that taking advantage of the large amount of mullite, which is a chemically and thermally stable compound found in the flying ash, we can use this material as a ceramic matrix, which by the addition of different particles have obtained novel nanocomposites that greatly diminish the thermal conductivity and are used in developing coatings for superalloys,” Arizmendi Morquecho said.
At the time, the team was planning final laboratory testing.
In 2018, Washington State University reported that Xianming Shi, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and graduate student Gang Xu had developed a concrete using fly ash as a binder.
“The team used graphene oxide, a recently discovered nanomaterial, to manipulate the reaction of fly ash with water and turn the activated fly ash into a strong cement-like material. The graphene oxide rearranges atoms and molecules in a solution of fly ash and chemical activators like sodium silicate and calcium oxide,” the university noted.
More recently, in 2020, a WSU doctoral student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering was awarded for his research involving the substitute of fly ash for cement in concrete. Sen Du received his award from the International Association of Chinese Infrastructure Professionals.
According to The Daily Evergreen, in his research Du was able to increase traditional fly substitutions in cement from 20% to 60%. This number was increased by adding nano-silica, which are nanoparticles of silicon dioxide and have strength and durability properties.
The experiment actually lowers the environmental impact of concrete by reducing the need for cement production, in addition to repurposing a material that otherwise might have be useless. In his method, Du added nano-silica to areas where the concrete was no longer strong in its use of fly ash, enabling him to increase the amounts of fly ash added as well.