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Leading coatings company Beckers is collaborating with innovative suppliers to incorporate waste materials into its products to drive sustainability
The raw materials used in resins and paint formulations account for the coatings industry’s greatest environmental impact. By shifting to the use of bio-based and waste raw materials, the industry can both reduce emissions and contribute towards circularity.
Making circular chemistry possible
Beckers is working with innovative suppliers and partners further upstream in the value chain to develop a supply chain for sustainable aromatic monomers made from waste feedstocks – and to ultimately commercialise more sustainable products. BioBTX, a circular economy technology developer, has developed its technology to transform varied waste streams, such as plastic waste and non-food biomass, into three invaluable drop-in chemicals: benzene, toluene and xylene (BTX). Together with Symeres, a novel route was explored to oxidise the xylenes into aromatic phthalic monomers that Beckers can use to create resins.
Phthalic anhydride is the main building block for polyester resin production as it is the most commonly used aromatic acid and makes up 40-50% of the resins it is used in.
A world-first circular resin
“Nobody has ever created a coil coating resin containing phthalic anhydride made from plastic waste and non-food biomass, so this world-first is an important step forward in terms of producing more sustainable resins and paints,” says Julien Marquiant, Resin Lab Manager at Beckers. “It really is a game-changer for us and our ability to incorporate high-quality sustainable materials. Also, as we are working with materials that are chemically identical to their petrochemically-derived analogues, we are confident that the end-product performance characteristics in the paint will be the same.”
Beckers established a unique partnership with BioBTX to show the application of renewable aromatics in the coatings industry.
“In order to achieve a fully circular economy, we will need to make use of all different types of carbon resources to substitute for all the fossil resources used today,” says Ton Vries, CEO at BioBTX. “The collaboration with Beckers proves that circular solutions can be realised if parties from different industries join forces. In this case, it does not only reduce plastic waste, but it also substitutes the need to source fossil-based resources.”
Besides upcycling thousands of tonnes of waste into high-value products, early LCA estimates suggest that the process has the potential to reduce the embodied carbon in a white coating by at least 10% compared with virgin fossil-based raw materials. Beckers is currently rigorously validating the quality and suitability of the phthalic anhydride produced from the BioBTX xylene, and initial results are very promising.
Caption: Plastic waste
Pioneering the world’s first high-performance coatings containing phthalic anhydride made from plastic waste
Innovative process for a wide range of waste streams
“Our Integrated Cascading Catalytic Pyrolysis (ICCP) technology represents a significant leap towards achieving sustainable high-value drop-in chemicals from an extensive array of feedstocks,” says Niels Schenk, CTO at BioBTX. “Importantly, the process can use a wide spectrum of waste streams, encompassing everything from mixed plastics and agricultural by-products to diverse forms of non-food biomass.”
The ICCP process first involves the pyrolysis of biomass and plastics. It then uses the catalytic enhancement of hydrocarbon vapours to produce valuable aromatics and other derivatives. The strategic separation of these two stages has allowed BioBTX to refine and fine-tune the technology and conduct comprehensive research on each stage. The ability to process a wide range of waste streams, including often overlooked feedstock sources and contaminated feedstock, also ensures flexibility.
“This pilot is hugely important, as sourcing more sustainable cyclo-aromatics is currently a critical issue to be overcome in the coil coating industry,” explains James Maxted, Global Product Sustainability Director at Beckers. “Additionally, using raw material from waste streams helps to offset the risk of oil price increases related to virgin materials. As both grades of phthalic anhydride are chemically identical and have the same performance, there is no need to rigorously test the BioBTX phthalic anhydride.”
Table: Gloss Retention and Delta E Against Exposure Time in QUV-A Cabinet
Table caption: The bar graph shows how the gloss retention of the standard resin and the resin made with the BioBTX phthalic anhydride changes on exposure in a QUV-A cabinet (standard blue, BioBTX Red). The line graph shows how the colour of the paint changes with exposure to QUV-A cabinet (standard purple, BioBTX orange)
Phase 1: Cracking
The initial phase uses the process of carbon fragmentation and BioBTX’s innovative pyrolysis technology. The technique uses heat to crack the plastic and biomass molecules in the absence of oxygen. This results in a vapour mixture that comprises a myriad of molecules, which are shorter and smaller than their parent molecules.
During pyrolysis, the material is purified as most of the contaminants in the end-of-life plastics and/or biomass are efficiently separated from the pyrolysis vapour. This results in a pure vapour stream that can be directed to the catalytic reactor.
Phase 2: Upgrading
The second phase glues the carbon atoms back together before condensing them into BTX and other valuable products. The robustness of the process allows BioBTX to process end-of-life plastics with various compositions and biomass. There is potential in the future to implement a selective upgrading step that will enable BioBTX to develop other processes and potentially add additional valuable products, besides BTX, to its portfolio.
Game-changing drop-in sustainable molecules
The renewable phthalic anhydride produced can be used in coatings. In a trial green coating, the physical properties were identical to a coating derived from fossil-based raw materials. This means that the phthalic anhydride can be used as a drop-in replacement for existing phthalic anhydride produced from petroleum. Alternatively, the BTX mixture can be separated into pure benzene, toluene and xylenes, which are the building blocks of the chemical industry.
Either way, they allow existing chemical production facilities to easily switch to renewable alternatives for their fossil-based products.
Beckers has additionally developed several resins from recycled waste PET plastic. The company is also now investigating a number of bio-sourced aromatic monomers from secondary sources, such as cashew nut shells.
“The move towards circular-economy raw materials, and away from petrochemically-derived ones, is one of the key pillars of Beckers Group’s Sustainable Innovation Strategy,” says Gavin Bown, Beckers Group’s Chief Technology Officer. “To accelerate progress in this key area, we at Beckers are proactively looking to connect actors all along the value chain with a view to enable the faster commercialisation of raw material solutions that lower the embodied carbon in paint.”
Beckers is the number one supplier of coil coatings and a leading supplier of industrial paints worldwide. The company is a pioneer in providing unique, high-performance coating solutions that improve customer competitiveness, while protecting people and planet.
BioBTX is a Dutch circular economy technology developer that has developed a patented and more sustainable process for producing BTX via a chemical recycling route from waste plastic and/or biomass.