Butterflies Inspire Paint Pigment Alternative

MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2023

A researcher from the University of Central Florida reportedly drew inspiration from butterflies to create what he says is the first environmentally friendly, multicolor alternative to pigment-based colorants.

The work from Debashis Chanda, a professor in UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, could potentially help with energy-saving efforts and reduce global warming.

“The range of colors and hues in the natural world are astonishing—from colorful flowers, birds and butterflies to underwater creatures like fish and cephalopods,” Chanda said.

“Structural color serves as the primary color-generating mechanism in several extremely vivid species where geometrical arrangement of typically two colorless materials produces all colors. On the other hand, with manmade pigment, new molecules are needed for every color present.”

About the Research

According to the university, Chanda’s research team developed a bio-inspired plasmonic paint, which utilizes nanoscale structural arrangement of colorless materials such as aluminum and aluminum oxide instead of pigments to create colors.

Pigment colorants can control light absorption based on the electronic property of the pigment material, requiring every color to need a new molecule. However, structural colorants control the way light is reflected, scattered or absorbed based purely on the geometrical arrangement of nanostructures.

The researchers reportedly combined their structural color flakes with a commercial binder to form a long-lasting paint in various colors.

“Normal color fades because pigment loses its ability to absorb photons,” Chanda said. “Here, we’re not limited by that phenomenon. Once we paint something with structural color, it should stay for centuries.”

The paint is also the “lightest paint in the world,” Chanda says, due to the paint’s large area-to-thickness ratio. Full coloration is reportedly achieved at a paint thickness of only 150 nanometers.

Additionally, the researcher reports that the paint is so lightweight that only about 3 pounds of plasmonic paint could cover a Boeing 747, which normally requires more than 1,000 pounds of conventional paint.

In terms of sustainability, the structural colors use metals and oxides, whereas current pigment-based colors use artificially synthesized molecules. The plasmonic paint also reportedly reflects the entire infrared spectrum, meaning less heat is absorbed by the paint.

The university reports that the surface underneath the paint has stayed 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than it would if it were covered with standard commercial paint.

“Over 10% of total electricity in the U.S. goes toward air conditioner usage,” Chanda said. “The temperature difference plasmonic paint promises would lead to significant energy savings. Using less electricity for cooling would also cut down carbon dioxide emissions, lessening global warming.”

The next steps are expected to further explore the paint’s energy-saving characteristics to improve its viability as commercial paint.

“The conventional pigment paint is made in big facilities where they can make hundreds of gallons of paint,” Chanda said. “At this moment, unless we go through the scale-up process, it is still expensive to produce at an academic lab.

“We need to bring something different, like non-toxicity, cooling effect, ultralight weight, to the table that other conventional paints can’t.”

The development was recently published in Science Advances.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Biomimicry; Coating chemistry; Coating Materials; Coating Materials - Commercial; Coatings Technology; Colleges and Universities; Color; Color + Design; Color + Design; Colorants; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmentally friendly; Fade-Resistant Color; Green coatings; Latin America; Nanotechnology; North America; Paint; Pigments; Research and development; Z-Continents

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