Two of our topics for this issue are bio-based and sustainable ingredients. Paint and Coatings Industry (PCI) spoke with Lee Walko, Technical Consultant with the United Soybean Board (USB). As a U.S. soybean farmer-funded organization, USB invests in research, promotion, marketing and commercialization programs to help expand and develop markets for U.S. soybeans. Through his role with USB, Walko is at the forefront of soybean oil technology development in paints and coatings. In this interview, he shares some of the up-and-coming research and trends happening with the soy-based technology used in paints and coatings.


PCI: What is driving the use of soybean oil in coatings?

Walko: Both product performance and sustainability are top-of-mind for coatings manufacturers. Key performance challenges facing many coatings formulators are finding ingredients, especially bio-based, that improve coating properties in areas such as weathering and long-term wear. These are areas where soybean oil and its many derivatives excel. Soybean oil is naturally hydrophobic, allowing for increased water and chemical resistance when used in coating formulations. Soybean oil’s chemistry also contributes to film hardness, durability and impact resistance, which allows formulators to produce high-performing paints and coatings. Of course, due to both internal initiatives and government legislation, companies are hyper-focused on reducing the amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their formulations, which is also a huge driver for using soybean oil in paints and coatings.


PCI: How is soy used in coatings? Is it used to replace another product or is it added to current formulations as an add-on product?

Walko: Soybean oil, or its derivatives, primarily replaces petrochemicals, which often results in improved performance, lower VOCs, and in many cases a reduced economic cost. Soybean oil is often used as the primary binder in a coating system. In addition, soybean oil can be added to existing formulations such as a reactive diluent. In one current example, soy-based formulations are being evaluated as replacements for paraffin wax in coating fruit and vegetable boxes in the food industry.


PCI: Can you discuss R&D efforts in this field?

Walko: USB funds significant research and development in this space. Right now, there is a project underway with Battelle that uses soybean oil to produce low-temperature powder coatings for substrates that are temperature sensitive.

USB also has two projects with Rust-Oleum; one focused on creating a low-VOC wood coating using a soy-based alkyd technology platform, and the other investigating uses for high oleic soybean oil, which has the potential to create high-performance, hydrophobic latex coatings.

High oleic soybean oil is particularity exciting to us. It is lower in volatility than petroleum ingredients and has even better stability than conventional soybean oil, which makes it attractive for a wide variety of industrial applications. Like Rust-Oleum, Arkema is partnering with USB to investigate the potential for using high oleic soybean oil to create low-VOC coalescing agents for waterborne coatings. USB is also working with researchers at Iowa State University to develop a high oleic soybean oil-based coating for packaging fresh produce.


PCI: How has demand for soybean oil in coatings changed in recent years?

Walko: According to a 2017 report by IHS Markit,1 demand for paint and coating products in mature markets, such as the United States, correlates closely with the health of the economy. In general, environmental regulations are becoming more stringent to limit emissions of VOCs and hazardous air pollutants. As a result, coating formulations have had to shift from historically solvent-based paints and coatings to water-based, high-solids or powder coatings, all areas where soybean oil can participate. This trend is not only happening in the United States but also countries such as China. These new trends will very likely continue to bring strong global demand for soybean oil as an ingredient for paints and coatings in the future.

The housing and architectural markets are two other areas for potential growth, with companies like Sherwin-Williams and Rust-Oleum already having well-established soy-based paint and coating product lines. Also, government contractors are required to give preference to bio-based products through the United States Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred program. Because of the BioPrefered Program, a growing market exists for companies such as Reichhold that produce a soy-based traffic paint for roads and highways, and Sherwin-Williams with their many soy-based paint and coating systems.

Another driver of demand is the consistent quality and reliable supply soybean oil offers. Thanks to U.S. soybean farmers, there’s always been, and will continue to be, a steady supply of soybean oil that paint and coatings manufacturers can rely on. In 2018, U.S. soybean farmers planted nearly 90 million acres of soybeans. That equates to more than 20 million metric tons of soybean oil.


Find out more about opportunities with soy-based products and ingredients available now at