Bio-based or renewable raw materials are predicted to grow dynamically over the next few years and will move from “nice to have” to “must have” within coatings. Several factors are driving this bold prediction, which include end consumer concern for the environment, legislations and the commercial viability of next generation renewables.
It’s a balancing act for formulators.
Let’s first tackle the consumer and legislative side, which are both placing demands on resins and coatings value chains for more sustainable and environmentally friendly coatings. Globally, consumers are becoming increasingly vocal about climate change and environmental issues, which translates into demands for more sustainable solutions. This impacts all industries and is often backed up by tougher regulations and legislation. As the of consumers, not just in Europe and North America, grows stronger for sustainable solutions it ratchets up the pressure on resins and coatings formulators to transition from mineral oil to renewable materials.
Resistance to switching to bio-based solutions has hitherto been down to a number of factors such as the purchase cost difference between bio-based and fossil-based materials, quality or performance differences, lack of availability and the cost of switching to bio-based.* All of which are excellent reasons and why resins and coatings formulators have been slow to switch. Getting the balance right is critical.
Renewables now make perfect sense – environmental, economic & performance
On the plus side, according to Fact.MR global coatings review**, renewable low VOC solutions already can deliver on many environmental levels – lower carbon footprint, lower environmental impact, lower toxicity, lower groundwater and ozone depletion pollutants, reduced odour and easy disposal. New bio-based or renewable solutions are emerging where the performance level and properties are on par or better than existing fossil-based solutions, and the cost differences can be significantly narrowed, for example using the Mass Balance concept***.
Pär Jörgensen, Technical Market Development Manager, Specialist at Perstorp with vast knowledge in the coatings industry gives his view: “By mass balance concept you are assured that you will get the second, more sustainable, generation of a substance you know well from a technical point of view. You know what you get and there is a security of supply since you always can go back to the first generation. When introducing a new bio based molecule, often derived from a new platform, it demands more boldness and commitment throughout the value chain. You need to take bigger risks, both as producer and user, but it can be multiply rewarded. It’s a challenge that requires a true commitment which will probably be needed more in the future”.
As the cost difference between renewables and fossil-based solutions shrinks and demand (volume) picks up as predicted, this cost difference is set to narrow even further. An increased demand will also draw in new players offering renewable solutions. In effect, the cost and performance issues holding back the switch to bio-based will eventually no longer apply. Increasing demand will also improve availability.
The Circular Economy – the moral viewpoint
The moral imperative for moving to renewable solutions is encapsulated in the circular economy concept, which is changing attitudes and thinking on sustainability. It is a holistic rather than a piecemeal approach to achieving a more sustainable world and society. This concept goes beyond cradle-to-grave since at its core is zero waste. It by definition designs out waste, therefore, the starting point for the circular economy is to choose materials that can be recycled, reused or returned to the bio-sphere without harm.
Renewable materials from responsible sourcing are central to this low carbon economy concept, and one that all of us - governments, businesses and society must buy into.
With end consumers growing voice in these matters it is important that we in the resins and coatings industry listen, especially as the polymers we use have a big environmental impact compared to different measures we implement to improve business sustainability.
We are approaching the tipping point where renewables are moving from “nice to have” to “must have”. Many actors in the industry agree that moving from mineral oil to renewable material is the next logical transition for the coating industry. More importantly the time has come when it now makes sense for business to switch – morally and commercially.
*Bio-based coatings: Growth Worldwide – European Coatings 2018
** Bio-based Coatings Market Forecast, Trend Analysis & Competition Tracking - Global Review 2018 to 2028 – Fact.MR
***Bio-based coatings: Sustainability 2.0 – European Coatings 2017