Sustainable Coatings by Rational Design (SusCoRD)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Materials


This project will, for the first time, connect a detailed scientific understanding of the mechanisms of coatings failure with state-of-the-art machine learning to deliver a design framework for the optimization of protective coatings and nanocomposite materials. It will be game changing for an industry (paint) which is often taken for granted, despite its ubiquity - the screen you are looking at, the color of your car, the protection for the aircraft you fly in, the longevity of bridges, wind turbine masts and other infrastructure. Indeed, almost all materials are made suitable for purpose or given function by the application of coatings. In the UK there are over 10,000 employees involved in manufacturing coatings and the coatings industry directly contributes over £11bn to the economy, supporting UK manufacturing and construction sectors worth around £150bn. The annual costs of corrosion damage in the UK lies in the range of 2-3% of Gross National Product (~£60 bn, 2016) and leads to premature loss of amenity in infrastructure and equipment; hence to environmental damage through accelerated extraction and resource use. Protective organic coatings (i.e. paints) are highly cost effective in limiting early materials damage due to corrosion however these are complex products where the underlying mechanistic links between the formulation and performance are lacking. The increasing need to use environmentally sustainable materials, reduce time-to-market and increase performance requires detailed mechanistic understanding across functions and length scales from the molecular to the macroscopic.

With brands such as Dulux, Hammerite and International, AkzoNobel are one of the world's largest manufacturers of protective and decorative coatings and have extensive manufacturing and research operations in the UK. AkzoNobel invests heavily in research, both in its global research hub for performance coatings in the NE of England as well as in UK universities. In particulare company (and its predecessor bodies) has collaborated in polymer science with the University of Sheffield, and in corrosion protection with The University of Manchester, for over 30 years.

This prosperity partnership between EPSRC and AkzoNobel/ International Paint with the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield, will enable for the 1st time, a fundamental mechanistic understanding of how the performance of protective organic coatings arises - essentially it will tell us "how paint works". The scope of the program is well beyond the capacity of an individual company, institution or funder and, hence, the collaborative partnership is essential in order to tackle this problem head-on. Success will allow industry to side-step the current trial-and-error approaches and to incorporate digital design (i.e. Industry 4.0) into the development of paints and similar nanocomposite materials resulting in the confidence to utilize sustainable materials, comply with legislative and customer drivers and maintain and extend performance in more extreme environments. Overall the project will deliver understanding and tools that underpin the rapid-to-market development of environmentally sustainable protective organic coatings and nanocomposites by rational design.

Planned Impact

This research proposal delivers a close partnership between AkzoNobel (AN) and the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield significantly strengthening existing collaborative ties in the area of protective organic coatings. The project will deliver a game-changing paradigm shift for a generally fragmented industry that does not individually have the capacity or scope to tackle the problem in depth. It brings an "Industry 4.0" approach to a sector that is largely craft-based and thus will have significant impact not just for the project partners, but also the supply chain for coatings formulation, for end-users of protective coatings and for other coatings suppliers. The advantages gained in achieving a predictable performance for coatings reduces costly laboratory and field testing, reduces premature failure and associated warranty claims, offers tailored products for specific markets and, importantly, offers increased service performance/longevity with a reduced environmental impact. Since protective coatings are ubiquitous the overall impact is potentially huge across almost all industry sectors: i.e. marine, construction, automotive, aerospace, energy, electronics, etc.

AkzoNobel is proud to have a track record of an active and wide dissemination of research results and all researchers and collaborators are encouraged to publish in the highest quality journals and present at international conferences such as NACE, CoSI, ECS, Eurocorr, as well as national events such as UK Electrochem and the UK Corrosion Science Symposium. AkzoNobel will also sponsor the next meetings of the international conference series "Advances in Corrosion Protection of Organic Coatings" and "Formulating Function Films and Coatings" in order to both showcase and benchmark its results with the wider academic and industry community.

The AkzoNobel Corrosion Community of Practice (CCoP) - around 20 members from key business units in 4 continents - operates regular workshops with invited audiences (from AkzoNobel, other companies and academia) on topical subjects and these will be opened up to researchers from this project in order to promote active discussion and dissemination directly into AN's business units, its supply chain and its end-users.

The collaborative nature of the program will allow individual researchers, academic supervisors and industrial mentors to enhance their skills, merging their capabilities from their own training or discipline with skills from outside their current experience. This will upskill the current in-house AkzoNobel technologists while training a new generation of young people in a complex, often neglected, but important, discipline.

The involvement of AkzoNobel's supply chain, academic colleagues from other institutions, together with the Sir Henry Royce Institute (SHRI) in the external advisory panel of this program provides an obvious pathway to wider impact. In particular this program will be core to the coatings initiative identified by SHRI as a key technology enabler.

Finally, since everyone knows what paint is (but few have any idea what it really comprises) we will undertake focused public engagement activities that will include a short film with high production values, as well as school and community based projects supported by Manchester and Sheffield Universities including the "Festival of the Mind", the "Mobile University" and the "Standing up for Science" platforms. We will also seek to engage with the Nuffield Research Placement scheme to bring 6th formers into university research environments.


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