A bioinspired platform technology for next-generation functional paints and coatings

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

The need for more sustainable paints and coatings, which do not release harmful chemicals into the environment when drying, has driven major recent advances in waterborne products. However, a new manufacturing approach is now crucial to produce the next generation of waterborne paints and coatings to help tackle pressing economic and societal challenges, such as healthcare associated infections and the need to increase our production of renewable energies.

The accumulation of pathogenic bacteria on surfaces is one of the leading causes of healthcare associated infections, which killed over 5,500 NHS patients in 2017 and cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion per year. New and more effective antibacterial coatings are therefore urgently needed to reduce bacterial accumulation on clinical surfaces and minimize the occurrence of healthcare-associated infections.

My platform technology will further be transformative for the renewable energy sector. Although we can fabricate devices which convert over 45% of sunlight into electricity, most solar panels are located in arid or semi-arid regions, where their efficiency can be reduced by up to 30% because of dust and pollen accumulated on the panels. Currently, the anti-soiling coatings that keep solar panels clean are based on fluorinated components that have a have a long-lasting persistence in the environment and high tendency to accumulate in animals and humans. My proposed approach to fabricate anti-soiling coatings will reduce our dependency on fluorinated materials, increasing sustainability and reducing costs.

This Fellowship aims to overcome these challenges by developing a bioinspired platform technology that will act as a springboard for the next generation of sustainable functional paints and coatings. As the base of the technology, structures found in the skin of insects that survive floods in the rainforest will be mimicked using a self-assembly process where the different building blocks order themselves during drying. These structures will provide self-cleaning properties to the coatings that are not based on the composition or chemistry of their ingredients (avoiding the need for fluorinated components) but on the surface geometry. This platform technology will then be adapted initially to add coating properties that will target the challenges of healthcare associated infections and solar panel efficiency reductions.

To tackle healthcare associated infections, nanomaterials that kill bacteria, in the form of copper or zinc oxide nanoparticles, will be added to the coating formulation. The distribution of these nanomaterials will be optimized to locate them at the top surface of the coating, where they will be most effective as they will be in contact with adhering bacteria. These coatings will be tested in a real hospital environment, to quantify the reduction in bacterial growth when compared with a surface that has not been coated.

To increase the efficiency of solar panels, nanomaterials that increase the resistance to wear and abrasion in arid climates will be added to the coating formulation. The composition of the coatings will be tuned to control their optical properties and minimize the adverse effects that sunlight reflection has on the efficiency of solar panels. The coatings will be tested in a real solar platform located in a desert, comparing the efficiency of a coated panel versus an uncoated one.

My Fellowship will be transformative in its focus on reproducing the conditions that the paint industry uses when developing new products. In particular, the challenge of obtaining the same structures in a high viscosity/thickness paint, which is required to prevent paint sagging/dripping after application, will be addressed. This will be done in collaboration with three industrial paint partners, as well as preparing pilot scale paint formulations, to ensure a route towards innovation and product development.

Planned Impact

The Fellowship aims to set up a bioinspired platform technology that will act as a springboard for the next generation of sustainable functional paint and coatings, with antibacterial and anti-soiling properties. The strong focus on reproducing industrially relevant formulations and real application conditions will ensure a route towards product development, leading to economic and societal impacts which will strongly benefit UK plc, the NHS, policy makers, and the wider public.

Commercialisation of the proposed new technology, which will be developed in partnership with two UK-based companies and further key potential partners through the Paint Research Association, is expected to start by the end of Year 7. The development of products based on this technology will significantly increase the economic competitiveness of the UK, giving it enough advantage over its competitors to become a global leader in functional coatings and climb from its current third position as European paint producer (after France and Germany) to the top one.

In 2017 healthcare associated infections (HCAIs) killed over 5,500 NHS patients and were set to cost the NHS £2.3 billion by 2018. Recent studies show that making 10% of the surfaces in Intensive Care Units antibacterial could reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections by up to 58%. Implementing the proposed antibacterial coatings could save more than 3000 lives and £1.3 billion per year for the NHS, strongly increasing the effectiveness of this public service.

The implementation of the proposed coatings will enable the UK government to deliver existing policies in several areas and re-set targets in future legislation. The waterborne paints will further help reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) released into the atmosphere, helping to comply with current VOC content regulations and paving the way for more strict environmental policies. Their self-cleaning properties will reduce their cleaning frequency, saving energy and contributing to meet the target set in the Climate Change Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Novel and more effective antibacterial coatings, which can reduce the amount of HCAIs, will support the Government's AntiMicrobial Resistance Vision and help to deliver its Action Plan. The anti-soiling coatings will increase the efficiency of solar panels by up to 30%, resulting in an extra 150 GW of solar energy produced and helping to meet the target set in the UK PV Solar strategy to produce 15% of total energy production from renewable sources by 2020.

The wider public will benefit from the transformative changes that the proposed technology could have on UK society: (i) An increase in the nation's health, through a reduction in the amount of deaths and infections originated by pathogenic healthcare bacteria and a mitigation of the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance; (ii) A less harmful atmosphere, with reduced greenhouse and volatile organic compounds emissions; and (iii) A more sustainable and long-lasting society, producing larger amounts of renewable energy.
 
Description We have studied simplified coatings formulations, which resemble those used in paints and coatings but with less ingredients, and we have been able to control the final vertical distribution of the different components by tuning the interactions between them. This has been achieved by introducing short (surfactants) and long (polymer) molecules which can change the formulation viscosity and the electric interactions between them. Being able to control the final coating architecture is key to control the performance of those surface coatings that serve a function, such as antibacterial coatings where it is desired that the active biocidal ingredient is present mostly at the upper layers of the coating.
Exploitation Route The ability to control the final coating structure could be a very helpful tool for industrialists in different sectors (paints coatings, inks, adhesives, crop care). The knowledge we are generating could be harnessed to engineer a certain distribution of the active ingredient of the formulation once it is dry.
On the academic side, we have provided further insights in the process of size segregation in particle blends which can be taken forward by experimentalists, theorists and modelers within the fields of soft matter, polymer materials, and materials engineering.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description Next-generation antibacterial coatings
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 2613863 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 03/2025
 
Description Synthesis and Characterization of Liposomal Model Systems
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Loughborough University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2020 
End 09/2023
 
Description Antifouling coatings - AkzoNobel 
Organisation AkzoNobel
Department AkzoNobel UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have started a relationship with Akzo Nobel by providing them with consultancy services. We are characterizing some of their new antifouling paint formulations with our equipment, Specifically, we are looking at the distribution of the different components of the paint and how this structure evolves when immersed in seawater for prolonged periods of time.
Collaborator Contribution AkzoNobel is providing the samples to be characterized and as much technical knowledge on them as they can share. They are paying for a consultancy service and therefore contributing to the running costs of our facility.
Impact We have signed an NDA, and therefore we cannot share the results from our collaboration. We expect that our input will help AkzoNobel to formulate more efficient antifouling coatings which will result in less consumption of fuel by cargo ships and therefore a lower carbon footprint.
Start Year 2022
 
Description CNRS University of Lyon - Polymer colloids 
Organisation Claude Bernard University Lyon 1 (UCBL)
Department Astrophysics Research Centre of Lyon (CRAL)
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We make use of polymer and inorganic nanoparticles synthesized by the groups of Dr Lansalot, Dr D'agosto, and Dr Bourgeat-Lami to produce coatings formulations. We characterize the interactions happening in the dispersions as well as the final structure of the coatings.
Collaborator Contribution The groups in Lyon synthesize polymer and inorganic particles based on our needs, tailoring their composition, size, surface chemistry, etc. They also provide a more chemistry-oriented expertise which is very useful for us to understand our results.
Impact This collaboration is multidisciplinary across Chemistry/Physics/Materials Science. We are in the process of writing an article which we expect to be published before the end of 2022.
Start Year 2021
 
Description AFM-FLIM Inaugural event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Due to Covid restrictions, we made an online event for presenting the AFM-FLIM equipment for an audience which was mostly academic but with about 10% of industry representatives - the total number of attendees was 70. We had two invited talks and a good discussion which helped attendees to get an idea of how the facility could be used for their needs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description East Midlands Materials Society talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Outreach talk for the East Midlands section of IOM3.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Visit to AkzoNobel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We made a visit to the Felling headquarters of AkzoNobel. Two of my students and I presented recent research results and presented to members of staff the AFM-FLIM facility. As a result of this visit, we are now doing consultancy for AkzoNobel characterising some of their anitfouling coatings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Visit to Lucideon (online) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Online talk to relevant staff at Lucideon, to showcase the AFM-FLIM facility and discuss possible collaboration with the company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Visit to Paint Research Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We visited the Paint Research Association and I gave a talk presenting new results and the new AFM-FLIM facility. This resulted in them engaging with us and committing to provide in-kind support for a new proposal which is being written.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021