The global coatings market is a major consumer of
industrial minerals and its ebbs and flows are watched with
keen interest by producers of mineral sands, mica, talc and
calcium carbonate, amongst others.
Encompassing everything from interior design
paints to specially engineered coatings for aircraft, the
coatings industry’s performance is closely
correlated with various downstream sectors including housing,
construction, automotive, furniture and packaging, which in
turn tend to follow broader economic trends such as
The paints and coatings industry can be
categorised into three markets: architectural and decorative;
industrial original equipment manufacture (OEM); and special
purpose coatings. Architectural coating is the largest segment,
followed by industrial coatings and special purpose
Although the overall coatings market experienced
healthy growth in 2013 as building projects and industrial
production in Asia continued to boom, by 2014, the industry had
started to lose its lustre – as the full year earnings
of many coatings and associated mineral companies
US-based titanium dioxide (TiO2)
producer Huntsman Corp. made a net loss of $38m in fourth
quarter 2014, down from a profit of $31m a year earlier, which
it attributed to lower earnings from pigments and
Dutch paints manufacturer AkzoNobel, which makes
the well-known decorative paint brand Dulux as well as the
paint for McLaren’s Formula 1 racing cars,
meanwhile saw its revenue drop 2% in 2014 to €14.3bn
($16.2bn*), compared with €14.6bn in 2013 in what it
described as a challenging year for the company.
Others, such as UK-listed Elementis Plc and
China’s Henan Billions Chemicals Co., fared better
over the course of last year. Elementis recorded a 4% rise in
pre-tax profit to $141.9m, up from $136m in 2013, and
highlighted its performance in the North American coatings
additives market, where the company expanded its business by
Henan Billions has said that China’s
pigments market is performing strongly, contrary to conditions
in the wider global market. The TiO2 manufacturer
announced a 168% rise in net profit for 2014, to Chinese
renminbi (Rmb) 63.1m ($10m).
Elementis was aided by a favourable product mix,
while Henan Billions has been able to profit from the low price
of TiO2 feedstock minerals – ilmenite and
rutile – cheap manufacturing costs in China and the
strong US dollar to realise gains in export markets.
These companies’ less
well-performing rivals, on the other hand, were hampered by
their reliance on demand for architectural coatings in stagnant
markets as well as low selling prices for their products,
thanks to weak demand.
Some of the main minerals used in
in coating applications
Used in flame
Bromine is mainly
used to make fire safety coatings for products
such as insulation foams, textiles and
furniture. The stability of bromine in flame
retardant molecules mean that the molecule can
offer the highest activity against flames,
effectively "killing" the flames and preventing
oxide (SnO2) coatings are also used
in solar applications.
Used as a filler or
extender for pigments.
carbonate (GCC) is an economical but relatively
low-performing filler. It has low brightness,
does not contribute to film integrity and its
chemistry makes it subject to acid
carbonate (PCC) is also used as a filler in
products including latex and emulsion paints.
Nano-type PCCsare sometimes used in industrial
coatings to extend TiO2 pigments,
where its small particle size helps to space
out the TiO2 particles.
Used as a filler or
extender for pigments.
Mainly used as a low
cost coating for paper, it improves the surface
properties of the coated product by enhancing
brightness, opacity and smoothness.
iron oxide (mica)
Used to waterproof
and increase reflectivity of coatings.
A silicate mineral
added to paints and sealants to increase their
imperviousness to moisture. It also reduces
stress caused by oxidation, thermal expansion
and contraction; improves flexibility, stain
and weathering resistance.
Used as a filler in
A platy aluminium
silicate mineral, pyrophyllite has a structure
similar to talc and is used in interior
primers, flat and texture plaints and as a
substitute for mica in joint compounds.
Used as a filler or
The addition of talc
improves the moisture resistance of exterior
paints due to its hydrophobic nature and platy
particle shape. It is more costly and less
bright than high grade calcium carbonates and
is used in colourants for paint tinting as it
helps aid the suspension of pigments. Also used
in industrial coatings, such as primers, to
improve the sandability and adhesion of the
product being coated.
Used as a white
pigment across a range of coatings.
visible light throughout a coating, thereby
enhancing whiteness, brightness and opacity.
Rutile TiO2 pigments are preferred
to anatase forms because they scatter light
more efficiently and are more stable and more
Used in durable
Wollastonite is an
acicular (needle-like) calcium silicate mineral
with low oil absorption capacity, making it
suitable as a corrosion resistance ingredient
for waterborne primers. It is also used for
tint retention in exterior latex paints and
scrub resistance in interior flat paints. Fine
ground wollastonite can be used in powder
Other minerals used
in peripherally in the coatings industry
include barium sulphate, diatomite, nepheline
syenite and silica.
Reacting to changes in the
The divergences in fortune of some of the top
coatings companies and the mineral producers that supply them
can partly be explained by factors such as their sector and
geographically-defined customer bases, their corporate
structure and their approach to maintaining or growing their
The worldwide coatings market is a highly
competitive one and is sensitive to both cost and performance,
with different emphasis allocated to these respective
categories, depending on the sector.
According to Sweden-headquartered LKAB Minerals,
which supplies specially engineered mineral products for
applications ranging from flame resistance coatings to
decorative paints and printing inks, its coatings customers are
increasingly having to meet tougher regulations on product
performance, particularly in fire safety, meaning that
performance is given a high weighting.
"Customers from the coating industry are, in line
with the more stringent legislation, looking for sustainable
solutions in fire retardancy, requiring halogen-free solutions
primarily and secondly low-toxicity and low-smoke coatings,"
the company told IM.
Companies like US-based Albemarle Corp. and
Chemtura Corp. which produce flame retardants based on bromine
– a halogen – have recently been stung by a
consumer and regulatory backlash against certain types of
brominated chemicals, forcing them to invest in new
formulations that meet strict toxicity standards.
Other companies make a selling point out of their
compliance with health and safety rules, although few can help
changes in regulation that re-classify products once considered
safe as potentially harmful to human health or the
LKAB stands by its assurance that only sells
natural minerals that it says can be classified as
"Our R&D team is working closely together
with our partners and customers in the coatings industry
(…) focusing on fire retardancy with our unique
UltraCarb products – based on huntite hydromagnesite
– which are a proven halogen-free fire retardant," the
While they may be a costly headache for some
companies, changes in product criteria are no bad thing for
innovation. In the paints industry, for example, changes in
regulation and shifts in customer preferences are driving the
emergence of new products.
According to the "Global Paints and Coatings
Market Report: 2014 Edition", published by Market Research
Reports, paint manufacturers are focusing on zero-volatile
organic compounds (VOC) and eco-friendly paints.
This trend is opening up opportunities for agile
R&D departments at mineral companies to supply products
that meet these criteria.
Global industrial minerals leader Imerys SA
recently announced that it plans to release a new range of
architectural paints into the market that boast both high
performance and sustainability credentials. The product range,
called ECO-PHYL, is a newly developed product based on mica,
chlorite and quartz, specifically designed for indoor and
outdoor architectural paints.
As well as this eco-friendly range, the company
is also introducing products for industrial coatings, including
one called Mistrogard – which it describes as a
multifunctional mineral extender with low oil absorption to
meet VOC standards.
AkzoNobel, meanwhile, was recently awarded a
prize at the WBM Bio Business Awards in the Netherlands for its
pioneering work into making coatings chemicals that imitate the
process of photosynthesis used by plants to convert carbon
dioxide and light into oxygen.
The trend towards greener coatings looks likely
to be a strong influence on the development of the market for
the foreseeable future.
According to a report published in February by
Markets and Markets, entitled "Low-VOC Coating Additive Market
by Type – Global Forecast to 2020", the low-VOC
coating additives industry will be worth $5.8bn by the end of
the decade, bases on a compound annual growth rate of nearly
5.8% over the next five years.
Performance tops cost
While price points are important in determining a
new product’s ability to enter the highly
competitive coatings market, LKAB told IM that
placing a product in the industry is not always about cost.
"The customers we primarily work with are those
that are looking beyond only cost and focusing on quality,
green solutions and top performance to differentiate and grow
their businesses," LKAB said.
"For these companies, as for us, the challenge is
to show the added value and why that supersedes a low cost
approach. This is clearly not a me-too strategy and requires
confidence in your own product, technology and expertise."
As with the drive for green coatings, this
willingness to pay a premium for performance characteristics in
coatings has spurred a raft of research into new products and
new and exciting findings are emerging all the time.
At the beginning of March, a team of scientists
at University College London (UCL) in the UK revealed that they
had developed a type of TiO2-based nanocoating paint
capable of creating self-cleaning waterproof surfaces.
The researchers said that the coating is robust
enough to resist considerable wear when applied to paper,
steel, glass and even cotton wool. "Being waterproof allows
materials to self-clean as water forms marble-shaped droplets
that roll over the surface, acting like miniature vacuum
cleaners picking up dirt, viruses and bacteria along the way,"
Yao Lu, lead author of the paper on the study said.
As opposed to commercially available
self-cleaning surfaces, which often degrade when damaged or
contaminated, the nanocoating maintained its self-cleaning
property in the face of all attempts to impair it, the
In another recent eye-catching development,
Florida, US-based RGF Environmental Group announced that it had
developed a type of billboard coating that could purify
The coating product in question was a super
oxidation catalyst that combines ultraviolet (UV) light from
the sun and moisture from the air to produce advanced oxidation
plasma (vaporised hydrogen peroxide) that oxidises pollutants
in the air.
According to the company, an earlier version of
the catalyst is already being used on buildings in Europe and
Japan and RGF plans to add the catalyst to its line of
Meanwhile, the US Air Force has come up with a
new type of high temperature, abrasion-resistant coating called
Proteckt, that is says can improve the reliability and
maintainability of weapon systems used by the military
division, including its F-35 Lightning II fighter jet.
Major George Woodroth, the Air Force Laboratory
project manager who worked on developing Proteckt, said that
the new coating’s performance represented "roughly
a 2,000% improvement in the average time between coating
failures and directly addresses a current F-35 need".
"We anticipate that the new material will provide
the program an estimated $14m in life-cycle cost savings," he
Outlook for coatings
Although pockets of growth have been identified
for certain sectors of the coatings market, such as
anti-corrosion, nanocoatings and low-VOC products, indications
from the TiO2 pigment industry are that the main
demand segment, architectural and decorative coatings, is under
pressure from saturation in mature markets and slowing growth
in emerging economies.
While parts of Asia still offer high growth
prospects for construction-related coatings, demand needs to
catch up with supply and inventories need to run down in order
for the market to be rebalanced.
Prices for TiO2 and feedstocks are low
at present, as are prices for bromine, while the cost of talc
and calcium carbonate are more or less stable, however raw
material price fluctuation has been a concern for coatings
manufacturers in the recent past. Supply security is not really
an issue, however.
Perhaps the chief challenge facing the coatings
industry in the near term is the pressure to innovate and
successfully negotiate the competitive landscape. High
performing products for niche applications certainly make
headlines and bring companies’ R&D
capabilities to public attention, but the real test comes when
a company has to prove that its coating product outruns its
peers on one or all of the cost, performance and sustainability
criteria lionised by the evolving coatings industry.
*Conversions made March 2015