WAGENINGEN, the Netherlands - Juan Yang, a Wageningen University PhD student, has developed a new polymer based on a trick used by mussels. The polymer should allow water-based paint to flow better and produce water-resistant coatings.

Water-based paint is better for humans and the environment compared to paint with chemical solvents. Paint based on water, however, still does not carry the same properties as those based on chemicals. For example, the paint flows differently than traditional alkyd systems. Giving a water-based product water-repellent characteristics also presents challenges.

For her PhD research, Yang has been looking for a polymer that dissolves in water but creates water resistance, and she was inspired by the mussel. Being under water, a mussel can still attach itself to surfaces. The mussel does so by first excreting a thread of a specific type of protein from its foot. A reaction then occurs in these proteins, whereby the thread losses the ability to dissolve in water within a minute and becomes strong and tough. Much research already has been done on the chemistry of these proteins because of the adhesion properties, but not so much on the insolubility in water. Yang is unraveling this characteristic in her dissertation on the mussel-inspired chemistry and its applications.

The Wageningen PhD student was able to create a polymer with this property that reacts in water. One of the requirements for the toughening characteristic of this polymer is the de-acidification of its surroundings. This proof of principle offers a lead of departure for the paint industry to improve water-based paints. The effects of the polymer on other paint components, such as pigment and other properties, needs further research.

The reactive polymer also has the potential for application in other situations. For instance, mussel-inspired chemistry is suitable for the creation of antimicrobial coatings. The research was made possible by AkzoNobel.

Publication:  Juan Yang, Inge Bos, Wim Pranger, Anthonie Stuiver, Aldrik Velders, Martien A. Cohen Stuart, Marleen Kamperman. A clear coat from a water soluble precursor: a bioinspired paint concept. J. Mater. Chem. A. 2016. Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1039/C5TA09437B.