New ICI paints cut VOC emissions from car respraying

The world's first water-based metallic paint for vehicle repairs has been launched by ICI Paints. It will enable refinishing businesses to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by roughly 50%.

The new product is an addition to ICI's Aquabase water-based metallic vehicle basecoat paints. The range was launched in 1985 (ENDS Report 132, pp 9-11) and is now in use in eight vehicle manufacturing plants. About 50% of the vehicles coated with water-based technology to date have used ICI's paints, the company claims.

The Aquabase range was developed in response to tightening regulations on emissions of VOCs, which play a central role in the formation of ozone and other photochemical pollutants.

Until now, there have been no water-based coatings for use in vehicle repairs which match the metallic finish and range of colours achieved with original paints. The new Aquabase products are intended to fill that gap.

According to ICI, vehicle refinishing operations consume about 150,000 tonnes of coatings annually within the EC. The coatings contain about 85% of organic solvents, all of which are emitted to atmosphere. Refinishing operations in the UK are estimated to emit 18,000 tonnes of solvents annually out of an EC total of 117,000 tonnes.

The new Aquabase products are not solvent-free. They contain 10-15% of organic solvents, although with further development ICI hopes to push this figure below 10%. However, the company says that the environmental benefits will be greater than indicated by the reduction in solvent content because the new formulation contains solvents with a much lower photochemical creation potential than those used in conventional refinishing paints.

Two potentially adverse features of the new paints are the need for refinishers to use a drying system if they wish to match the drying times achieved with conventional products, and the generation of a liquid waste stream.

ICI says that a drying system which it has devised for use with the Aquabase range is highly energy efficient. And the solvent recycling business Safety Kleen has agreed to collect and process the liquid residues from Aquabase refinishing operations. Refinishers will have to pay for the service.

The new products have been on sale in Germany since May, and will be available throughout Europe and the USA next year.

Uptake in the UK is likely to be influenced by the scope of emission control rules introduced under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the deadline set for refinishers to comply with these.

At present, only about 1,000 refinishers consuming more than two tonnes of solvents annually are caught by the legislation. Another 10,000 or so are below this threshold, but in aggregate probably emit larger quantities of VOCs than the larger businesses (ENDS Report 208, pp 8-9 ).

The sector's trade association, the VBRA, has been lobbying for a reduction of the threshold to 0.25 tonnes. The Department of the Environment is due shortly to issue proposals to carry out some fine-tuning of the scope of the pollution control systems introduced under the Act, and is expected to respond positively to the VBRA's proposals.

ICI is likely to benefit from a reduction in the threshold. It says that the only realistic option available to refinishers to comply with the VOC emission rules is to switch to low-solvent coatings. However, the rules will not begin to bite until 1995.

Two further sources of VOCs from refinishing operations remain to be tackled. These are the primer and clearcoat, both of which contribute roughly 25% each to total VOC releases from a refinishing operation.

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