At the recent ACS show in Atlanta, attendees were asked to identify which supplier industry would be expected to deliver the most significant innovation step over the next three years. In declining order of popularity, attendees predicted developments in the fields of binders, production technology, additives and pigments.

Against this background, I noted with considerable interest an award recently given by the consulting firm, Frost and Sullivan. The award went to Clariant for its efforts to give clarity to the definition of what we mean by sustainability through its EcoTain approach, and then commercialising products that are a good fit with the criteria that the company has developed. While the award focuses on a dispersant designed for the agrochemical industry, Clariant already has on its range a non-ionic, surfactant-based dispersing agent for waterborne colorants in coatings. This product is said to be suitable for inorganic pigments, organic pigments and carbon blacks in point-of-sale colorants.

This blog has used the agrochemicals industry as an exemplar before, and it is interesting to see the link coming up again here.

There is a constant call these days for clarity on what we mean by sustainable development and how we should measure it. The EcoTain concept addresses sustainability in a broad way, which looks beyond the quest for manufacturing efficiency improvements, styled by some as a ‘business-as-usual’ approach. Clariant goes further and structures its new product thinking into a four-stage process in terms of Sustainable Design, Responsible Process, Safe and Efficient Use, and Eco-integration.

Sustainable Design looks at the choice of raw materials to ensure that they are non-hazardous and renewable. While some authors have argued that there is little to be gained by working with renewable raw materials due to questions about overall environmental footprints and poor manufacturing economics, it is good to see Clariant pressing on with this concept. The use of renewables in chemical manufacture is still in its infancy, but it is generally accepted that we must move forward to find ways of being less reliant on petrochemical sources of chemical building blocks. Oil and gas from current sources under the ground will run out one day or become prohibitively expensive to extract and process. As volume of renewable material use increases and manufacturing processes are tightened, the arguments of these critics will be increasingly challengeable.

Responsible Process, and Safe and Efficient Use are two stages in the Clariant EcoTain approach that are required, whatever the manufacturing process and application. Minimal waste, energy efficiency, process safety and the absence of hazardous pollutants of all types are essential ingredients of any new product development process, and these features are very much part of the kind of business model that is now demanded by the growing number of  eco-labels in the downstream market place. Regulation plays a key role here in guiding the choice of ingredients in formulations. With the new CLP regulation coming into Europe in mid-2015 for mixtures, coatings manufacturers are working to reformulate to gain label-free status for their products. The EcoTain concept embraces the demands of this upcoming regulation.

Safe and Efficient Use also addresses product performance improvements. The coatings industry is always looking for ways of enhancing functionality, and this in itself can create sustainable development for downstream customers and users in addition to a reduced environmental footprint created during manufacture. A feature of Clariant’s current product offering is that it works in both solvent-based and waterborne formulations and can help in the transition away from solvent-based systems.   

Eco-integration is perhaps the most revolutionary of the four stages. In this stage, Clariant considers what happens to its products after disposal, and seeks options that ensure that its products leave behind a very small footprint. This drive to consider the nature and properties of degradation materials in manufacture, use and disposal is critical to future R&D thinking of both the chemical and coatings industries as both look for sustainable innovations in the binders, additives and pigments areas.

I would encourage Clariant to extend its EcoTain concept further, particularly in the area of eco-integration. Greater consideration of what happens beyond the factory gate is essential in new product design. To get there, one will need to work more intensively with downstream companies to understand how and under what circumstances products degrade after use. In that way, the non-hazardous nature not only of the products but also of materials emitted during degradation can be confirmed. Collaboration both upstream and downstream to understand the many routes that products can take during their lifecycles is a critical step and will become ever more so as the focus on sustainability intensifies.

 One thing for sure, when products are described as non-hazardous, containing renewable raw materials, manufactured with a 100% yield and minimal waste, free of hazardous air pollutants, low VOC and readily biodegradable, as Clariant has done for its coatings dispersant materials, there is no excuse for anyone in the coatings industry not taking them very seriously indeed.