Sustainable innovation – reducing emissions through cutting-edge curing

There are many different factors in play when it comes to the energy transition. From innovative new ways to meet customer demands to streamlining our processes, each is equally important.

The former is something of which we’re very aware. We’re proud to collaborate with our customers when it comes to developing new products, giving them what they want while ensuring the end result is as environmentally friendly as possible.

“Although most of our customers are still in the early stages of their discovery journey, there’s a strong collective understanding that we as an industry need to change the way we operate,” explains Ignacio Román Navarro, Regional Commercial Director, Vehicle Refinishes EMEA. 

“We face an enormous challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to contribute to a better world. There’s a loud cry for help from the customer side and we at AkzoNobel want to be their partner in their endeavors.”

Responding to our customers’ needs helps our own process efficiency, which is vital if we’re to progress. We’ve talked to colleagues in product development to see how they’re helping us reach our targets. 

The future of curing technology

“The majority of our projects have a very strong focus on reducing our carbon footprint,” says Gerard van Ewijk, Manager Expertise Center Wood. 

Traditionally, curing – the process where a coating dries and hardens – is seen as something that is both time-consuming and energy-intensive. But the days of powering electrical or gas ovens for prolonged periods of time are numbered as new product technologies are developed – which ultimately is good news for the energy transition.

UV curing, where ultra-violet light is used, has been around for a while. But now the benefits of UV light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are more widely recognized – as well as being more energy efficient, they don’t contain mercury which is a toxic substance.

“High-intensity UV radiation was the predominant technology previously, says Alexander Yahkind, R&D Senior Scientist, Global Innovation group. “Now the trend is for lower intensity. In some cases, we can cure small areas of our coatings with just a LED flashlight. We even have some prototypes that can be cured in sunlight – imagine, you just take the coated part outside to cure! It’s conceptual, but it’s a step forward – we are always looking for what will make the curing process better, cleaner and contribute towards reducing our carbon footprint.”

Alexander says that while radiation curing – the term “UV curing” refers to one particular technology – still relies mostly on materials produced from oil and gas, there is ongoing research towards obtaining curing materials from bio-based sources. 

“Academia and universities are definitely working in that direction, he says. “We are looking at different chemistries and how these materials can be used in different types of coatings.”



Meeting the demands of our customers

But just because we’ve focused on new innovations that help the energy transition, is there a market for them? Because we’re responding to our customers’ needs – even if carbon reduction wasn’t their primary focus – the answer is yes.

“Customers will sometimes make requirements of us when it comes to radiation-cured coatings,” Gerard explains. “It’s not just that they want to cooperate if we have something new – they are actually saying this is what we want.

“In addition, we are always looking to provide additional benefits. So if a customer doesn’t want a product because it has a lower carbon footprint, they might want it because it cures very quickly – which improves their production efficiency. For example, with a UV primer, the people in a car body shop can use it, shine a light on it, and get on with their work – they don’t need to wait an hour until they can do the next layer.”

So fast curing leads to carbon footprint reduction but is also more efficient. And, adds Gerard, with energy prices through the roof, low-energy cure products are also proving highly attractive to businesses. Add to that the need to balance outstanding performance with the energy needed to produce the raw materials we use in our products, and it’s clear the R&D teams face some tough challenges.

However, we’re confident we’ll rise to them successfully. Working with our suppliers, continuing the strong partnerships towards our goal for 2030 – to produce 50% fewer carbon emissions in our own operations and across the value chain.

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