According to BMS, a PU coating of some kind appears in every car rolling off modern production lines. If not on the metal bodywork outside, then coating a plastic-based component inside, and with so much in today’s world requiring a covering or finish, the PU coatings business is huge.
According to the British Coatings Association, it takes two tonnes of paint to cover a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. A road vehicle might require a layered coating of less than 100µm - or the breadth of a human hair according to BASF – but with 85m vehicles expected to roll off production lines in 2015, the coatings business remains a big draw for manufacturers and developers.
At a Bayer MaterialScience (BMS) press conference in Dusseldorf, Germany in January 2015, Daniel Meyer, head of the coatings, adhesives, specialties business unit and member of the executive committee of BMS, told journalists it takes 1kg of isocyanate to coat one car.
“As of today, the overall share of polyurethane chemistry in OEMs is roughly about 30%,” he said.
“We needed 70 years to get from 0 to 30% - which tells you how conservative this industry is,” he said.
“Will we need another 70 years to get to 60%?” he asked.
PU already plays a large part in the flexible foam side of car production but, according to a 2014 report from MarketsandMarkets, the global automotive and transportation coatings market was almost 50% PU-based in 2012.
Michael Hilt, senior manager coating systems and painting technology and general manager business unit process industries at the Fraunhofer IPA Institute (Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA), said it is true that polyurethanes are challenging to create. But he added: “In use phase, they are sustainable and very high quality materials too.”
However, it is partly due to polyurethane’s “high quality” – to reiterate Hilt - that Meyer remains “confident that the acceptance rate for PU within the auto industry is now on an exponential growth path and that it is waterborne PU that all OEMs investing into,” he explained.
However, Meyer stressed new products have to make economic sense because consumers are not prepared to spend more on something just because it is made from bio-based or more sustainable materials or processes.