Nanotechnology and the Coatings Industry

07 October 2011

The British Coatings Federation (BCF) in cooperation with the Nanotechnology Knowledge (NanoKTN) and the Paint Research Association (PRA) organised a one-day seminar at the Nottingham Gateway Hotel to discuss the benefits, opportunities and challenges provided to the Coatings Industry by nanotechnologies.

With over 70 attendees, 10 exhibiting organisations and 13 speakers, the day was packed with valuable information sharing, networking and technical debate. Participants in the seminar came from all sides of the subject and it was most encouraging to see speakers sharing the views of academics, trade and government related organisations, raw material suppliers, processing machine and paint manufacturers, plus a business entrepreneur. It was clear from the content of the meeting that nanotechnology represents an exciting step forward, which can add value to the Coatings Industry and its customers as it develops the next generation of products for both consumer and industrial markets.

To the uninitiated, it was a surprise to learn that Nano particles of gold are, in fact, red and it was evident that small particles below the 100 nanometer scale can sometimes behave very differently compared to their much larger particle cousins. We may think of aluminium as a generally inert metal but at the nano-scale, it can be highly reactive.

This was further exemplified by Intrinsiq Materials which, by exploiting technology that originated from Qinetiq, are actively developing and launching ink products made from nano-copper, nickel, silicon and phosphors for printed electronic applications.
Sun Chemicals introduced its range of nanocomposite gas barrier coatings and argued that dispersed/exfoliated ‘platy’ minerals in its SunBar TM range applied to polymer matrices provide a tortuous path through which gases such as oxygen have difficulty passing.

Croda Suncare and Biopolymers described its range of Solarsorb UV nano dispersions made from crystalline inorganic solid materials which offer zero migration, no loss of activity with time, neutral colour and wide spectral absorbance range opposite organic UV absorber competition.

Imerys Minerals argued that you do not necessarily have to mill down to the 100nm level to achieve property changes while at the same time avoiding dispersion difficulties and the higher costs of nanomaterials. The high clarity, transparency, increased coating hardness, strength and stiffness together with reduced brittleness offered by near-nano materials was described.

The machinery sector was well represented by Netzsch Mastermix and CDC Microtron. There was general agreement that continual agitation and high speeds in bead mills do not deliver ever smaller particles due to particle agglomeration. The answer presented to the seminar was one of careful preparation of pre-mill suspensions plus gentle dispersion techniques which rely on mild agitation and low tip speed.

Indestructible Specialist Coatings gave some real world examples of how nano is already being exploited to deliver high heat, chemical and corrosion resistant aero engine coatings. While the dispersion challenge was recognised, the company was very bullish about the technical opportunities in the large marine antifouling sector as well as a wide range of small niche applications in the aero industry. The speaker ended with a warning that, in his view, the UK was somewhat behind the rest of Europe in developing and applying the latest nanotechnologies.

Inputs from the PRA and Oxford University plus invitations to discuss joint projects with the University of Surrey KTA and MERI at Sheffield Hallam University demonstrated that high quality technical capability is at hand to help industry take advantage of this new family of technologies.

The Institute of Occupational Medicine/SAFENANO reported on the recent report from EMERGNANO commissioned by the HSE and two RIP-oN projects on the current status of health, safety and environmental research on Nano. These reports point to a substantial gap in understanding about the risks involved with Nano. There is some evidence that carbon nanotubes may have an adverse effect on human health and that silver and titanium dioxide nanoparticles are detrimental to the environment. However, the jury is still out and further work is under way to fully understand the impact of nano particles, at which time we may well see new legislation developing.

Questions from the audience on all these inputs focused on the safety of nano, the implications for waste management together with the cost effectiveness and flexibility of nanotechnology. In the summing up by the BCF and the Nanotechnology KTN, it was evident that there are many questions yet to be answered in this growing field.

It was clear, however, that the answers lay in increased cooperation across the different interest groups represented at the seminar and exemplified by the coordination between the BCF, the NanoKTN and PRA that made this seminar possible. The final conclusion was that these three organisations would get together to organize a similar event in 12 months time to see if we have any more answers and to identify the next batch of questions that need addressing in this exciting technological field.

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