Home » Environmentally Friendly Coatings: Historical Perspectives and Future Outlook
Coatings are amazing materials. While only several thousandths of an inch thick, they are expected to protect and beautify various substrates for many years in various aggressive environments. Unfortunately, the coatings industry has a reputation for causing environmental damage during the manufacture, application and use of products. The combined efforts of global regulatory agencies and coatings technologists have dramatically improved the environmental footprint of the coatings industry over the last several decades. Significant reductions in hazardous air pollutants, releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous waste have been realized. In the United States, the coatings sector’s toxic releases have decreased more than 80% over the past 20 years. Production waste has been reduced by 48%, and 97% of waste solvents are reclaimed for future use. More than 90% of architectural paints sold in the United States are now waterborne. The total quantity of electricity used to produce coatings decreased by 18% in the last 5 years.1 Unused paint recycling is becoming more commonplace through the recycling efforts of Paint Care, Inc. and the American Coatings Association.2 The global emission of organic solvents from applied coatings has been significantly reduced. Automobile corrosion is much improved relative to that which occurred 40 years ago as a result of increased use of galvanized metal and electrodeposition. Ten- to 20-year vehicle longevity is now commonplace. Ships now can glide effortlessly through the water without the drag caused by barnacles and other marine organisms without the use of tin compounds as coating components. Cool roof coatings reflect infrared energy, enabling energy conservation in buildings.3
Indeed, coatings technologists have enabled great strides in the reduction of pollution and the conservation of energy in the recent past. However, much work remains to be done. Some of the planet’s most challenging issues will be impacted by coatings technology in the future. Coated filtration membranes will purify polluted water and separate carbon dioxide from air. Coatings will protect and reduce spoilage of food. Future improvements in corrosion protection will increase the longevity of expensive assets and reduce pollution resulting from the failure of pipes carrying oil and other chemical feedstocks. This article will detail the progress made to date and the future challenges in coatings science.