Breakthrough local technology attracts world-wide interest

A BREAK-THROUGH technology jointly developed by Dulux Powder Coatings and the CSIRO is attracting world-wide interest because of its ability to reduce the waste, CO2 emissions and damaging volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that result from solvent-based paint finishes used in many industries.

A BREAK-THROUGH technology jointly developed by Dulux Powder Coatings and the CSIRO is attracting world-wide interest because of its ability to reduce the waste, CO2 emissions and damaging volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that result from solvent-based paint finishes used in many industries.

Discussions have already taken place with a major European furniture manufacturer, a German automobile manufacturer, Chinese furniture and automobile manufacturers and the aerospace sector.

The new Customcoat QP technology — which this month won a Premier’s Sustainability Award in Victoria — involves a solvent-free powder coating that can, for the first time, be applied to a wide range of heat-sensitive plastics and cured at low temperatures.

This new product from Dulux — a brand of Orica, the Australian-owned, publicly-listed global company — has significant implications for the global automotive, furniture, industrial plastics, aerospace and consumer products industries which all use solvent-based paint finishes.

Because the coating can be applied to plastics, it also allows many metal parts to be replaced with lighter, less expensive plastic parts which generate less waste, emissions and VOC during the coating process.

The new technology has involved more than a year’s research and development by half a dozen scientists from the CSIRO Division of Materials Science and Engineering and Dulux Powder and Industrial Coatings.

According to Bill Matthews, Dulux’s Technical Manager for Powder and Industrial Coatings, the challenge in this project was to overcome the previous limitations of spray-on powder coatings.

“This has involved the CSIRO’s patented new technology that allows plastic to become conductive to electricity, and Dulux’s development of a powder coating that can be applied to plastics and cured at low temperatures,” he said.

The electrostatic “Corona” spray process requires negatively-charged powder to be transferred on to an earthed metal object. As plastics could not be earthed, industries have used metal substrates up until now.

The new CSIRO surface technology not only makes the plastic conductive, but ensures better adhesion of the Customcoat QP powder coating, which is then cured. The resulting product looks like a painted metal surface, which can then be used in a host of applications including car dashboards, consoles, and components found under the bonnet or in the car boot.

Development of this project has been supported by Sustainability Victoria, which provided a grant of $440,000 for R&D. Customcoat QP this month won a products award in the Premier’s Sustainability Awards in Victoria.

The environmental benefits of Customcoat QP are said to be significant.

When conventional liquid coatings are sprayed on to plastic parts, up to 70% is lost either as solvent or solid waste. The solid waste is collected, treated and disposed of in landfill, with about 2.5 million kilograms being dumped each year.

The solvent waste is released to the atmosphere as VOCs, and the Australian Paint Manufacturers’ Federation estimates that in the automotive industry alone, the annual consumption of 10 million litres of paint releases up to 7000 tonnes of solvent into the atmosphere.

Of the total VOCs released into the environment, over 70% is generated by vehicles and domestic sources, and up to 20% from industrial applications such as spray painting in the automotive industry.

With Customcoat QP, powder that doesn’t land directly on the sprayed item can be recycled and reused, so waste is eliminated. No VOCs are contained in the product, and because sprayed items are cured at low temperatures, there’s also a reduction in CO2 emissions.

“In conventional applications, baking temperatures would be at about 180 degrees Celsius,” Mr Matthews said. “Because we are baking only at 130 to 140 degrees, about 50% less energy is required to heat the ovens.

“By reducing the heat you’re reducing the environmental impact, not to the mention the cost savings in energy.”

The price of Customcoat QP is very similar to that of conventional powder coatings. While new plant will be required by manufacturers changing over to this product, it provides them with a new tool to reduce their carbon footprint and overall environmental impact.

“The biggest issue is the culture of change, and people being prepared to do something different,” Mr Matthews said. “There are obviously issues with capital investment, but when new plants are required, that’s the time to do it.”

Later this year, Mr Matthews and the CSIRO’s team led by Dr Voytek Gutowski, will brief the automotive industry on this product, in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria.

There are significant benefits for the designers of many products, as the use of Customcoated plastics reduce weight and cost, as well as environmental impacts. The product can be applied just to colour the surface of plastics, which is a far cheaper option than pigmenting the entire product.

“It gives designers a lot more opportunity, particularly in the design and fitout of sustainable buildings,” Mr Matthews said

A multi-million dollar market is emerging, and Mr Matthews said Dulux and the CSIRO would jointly licence the technology around the world.

Dulux Powder Coatings is a member of the Green Building Council of Australia, and is opening a new plant in Melbourne’s Dandenong South in mid 2008.