Marine-paint makers, biocide suppliers chart new course as marine paint marketplace heads for tin-free waters.

In October 2001 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved a treaty under which the use of organotin-containing marine antifouling paints would be discontinued on Jan. 1, 2003. The treaty calls for a total ban on the presence of organotin-containing marine paints on the hulls of oceangoing vessels engaged in international shipping, effective Jan. 1, 2008.

As a result, the antifouling marine-paint marketplace is undergoing a rapid transformation, with new, tin-free antifouling technologies quickly gaining volume and market share in the global marine-paint segment. In this new marine-paint world, the term “2003 compliant” means tin-free.

Robert J. Martin, global business manager, Marine Paints, at Arch Chemicals Inc., says organotin-containing paints commanded as much as 80% of the worldwide antifouling marine-paint market prior to the approval of the treaty. But the major marine-paint manufacturers -- Akzo Nobel’s International Paint, Hempel, Jotun, SigmaKalon, Chugoku, and Ameron -- are moving quickly to develop and produce alternative antifouling paint products.

Arch, says Martin, is poised to significantly expand its presence in the market for antifouling-paint biocide materials with two primary products -- zinc Omadine[R] and copper Omadine[R]. These materials are used in conjunction with cuprous oxide, which is effective in preventing the attachment of barnacles to ship hulls. Formulation of these new systems also required the development of polymers designed to replace coating systems employing organotin agents.

Copper-based technologies, in fact, have emerged as the leading candidates to grab the lion’s share of the antifouling-paint segment, Martin says.

International Paint, Jotun, SigmaKalon and Chugoku produce self-polishing antifouling marine paints that work by gradually releasing non-organotin antifouling agents such as cuprous oxide or other biocides over the lifetime of the paint. The paints are designed to “self polish” during movement of the vessel in water, which insures a smooth surface and impedes attachment of barnacles and other organisms that can cause “drag” of the hull in the water and result in loss of speed and fuel efficiency. As layers of these paints hydrolyze in water, lower layers of biocide-containing paint are exposed.

Hempel’s line of antifouling marine paint function by means of similar mechanisms, but Hempel also makes paints that include inorganic-fiber reinforcement of the resin matrix, which the company says provides effective polishing control and increases mechanical strength of the paint.

Martin says Arch is seeing rapid sales-volume increases in its tin-free antifouling products as Jan. 1, 2003 approaches, with further sales and market-share gains anticipated. Here are some of Martin’s responses to questions from PCI about the marine antifouling paint market and what it will mean for his company:

What led to the IMO’s action to phase out tin-based agents?

Martin: Discussion of the issue goes back years, to the mid-1980s. Tin-based products were found to “bio-accumulate” in marine organisms and were persistent in the environment. These properties, combined with the toxicity, presented a real risk to marine life. A ban on tin-based materials has been in effect since 1992 in Japan under an industry-government agreement, and that has helped to generate developments in alternative products. Most of the technology going into place today was developed in Japan, although European companies have made improvements and innovations.

What are Arch’s non-organotin products for the marine paint market?

Martin: Arch produces two alternative products -- zinc Omadine and copper Omadine. They prevent soft fouling and are used in conjunction with cuprous oxide, which is effective in prevention of attachment of barnacles. It is sometimes difficult to formulate stable paints with our zinc-based agent, but our copper-based material doesn’t pose that problem. This paint technology also involves the development of polymers designed to replace coating systems employing TBT (tributyl tin).

Are these new antifouling paint systems providing the type of performance needed?

Martin: The leading paint companies are coming out with good paint systems, and customers are confident these systems are going to work. The products are demonstrating equivalent performance to TBT systems, although at a higher cost in terms of price. In addition to paints containing copper materials and co-biocides, other technologies getting attention include non-stick coatings based on silicones.

In the United States, the U.S. Navy is using a straight cuprous oxide paint. But the United States represents a small portion of the global marine-paint market -- less than 5%, of which approximately half is consumed by the Navy. The Navy is heavily involved in R&D efforts to find and use new antifouling products -- all-organic biocides that degrade quickly with no copper or other metals. Other candidates are a low-release cuprous oxide with co-biocide, and non-stick coatings such as a silicone material that will provide improved performance than what has been demonstrated thus far. The Navy is working very hard to jump the technology forward.

Is the higher cost of the new products a major obstacle?

Martin: There will be some cost issues, but the costs will go down as experience with these products grows and volumes increase.

How has the pending organotin ban affected sales of your antifouling products?

Martin: Arch is seeing great acceptance of its TBT alternatives, and sales are expanding at a rapid clip.

Sales rose more than 30% in the first quarter of this year from the same period a year earlier. Sales of these products were concentrated in Japan when we introduced the products in the 1990s, and that success is now continuing elsewhere. Three of the top five marine-paint companies are using Arch’s technologies. TBT is rapidly moving out of the shipping fleet. And we’re seeing that reflected in projections from our customers.

We’re confident we’ll have a leadership position by 2003 or 2004, based on the fact that zinc Omadine and copper Omadine work effectively with a variety of coating systems. In addition, Arch has invested approximately $5 million in toxicity and environmental research designed to ensure the products are not persistent in the environment, do not “bioaccumulate,” and demonstrate effectiveness comparable to TBT. Our goal is to be the leading co-biocide supplier in the world. We’re very pleased with our sales in the marine area.

Are there concerns about new regulatory initiatives that could impact copper-based materials?

Martin: The only concerns that have arisen are restricted to areas of extreme build-up of copper in marine settings, such as certain harbors where extensive ship-maintenance activities are concentrated. Even in these locations, however, there has been no evidence of toxic effects. Research suggests that copper does not bio-accumulate and is not toxic to marine life.

There will be continuing efforts to look at all the biocide products. That’s why we’ve spent so much money to show they degrade in the environment to non-toxic components. What we’re saying is you need to look at antifouling systems based on risk assessment. A biocide that degrades rapidly and does not bioaccumulate such as zinc and copper Omadine can be very safe to use in antifouling paints.

How is the marine-paint market distributed worldwide? Other than merchant shipping, are there any important domestic markets in terms of paint consumption?

Martin: Asia accounts for 65%-70% of the global marine-paint due to the concentration of shipbuilding activities there. Europe has most of the remaining market. China, Korea, Japan and Singapore are major centers of activity individually, followed by Europe collectively. For paint suppliers, this is truly a global marketplace. It’s important to supply a product that can be used worldwide.

In the U.S., there is a sizable yacht market, and organotin products have been prohibited there since 1988. Paints containing copper and co-biocides are the standard materials used.