China’s Move Toward Water-Based Paints

July 15, 2016

China is a country of about 1.3 billion people, containing more than one-sixth of the world’s population. And those majority of those 1.3 billion are concentrated in the easternmost third of the country – a land area roughly equivalent to the U.S. states east of the Mississippi river and the Canadian province of Quebec.

With that many people crowded into a comparatively small piece of land, air and water pollution are a constant concern when products that utilize VOCs are manufactured. And pollution isn’t the only hazard. In 2015, an overheated container of flammable chemicals triggered a pair of explosions at the Port of Tianjin, about 100 miles southeast of Beijing. The explosions killed a reported 173 people and injured nearly 800.

Concerns over pollution and safety have led the Chinese government to crack down on the use of environmentally harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in paint manufacturing. In response, more companies in the industrial paint and coatings industry have begun changing the formulas in paints that are both manufactured in China and sold into the Chinese marketplace.


A case for water-based paints

Traditional solvent-based paints, sometimes referred to as oil-based paints, contain between 40 and 60 percent solvent, depending on the formulation and the end use. When solvents evaporate, they release VOCs into the atmosphere, which can be dangerous to both the environment and to human health.

This has prompted much of the Western world to limit the usage of VOCs in industrial paint manufacturing in recent decades, but VOC regulations are relatively new to the Asia-Pacific region. China’s decision to promote reduced VOC levels with a series of environmental protection laws and regulations gives an impetus to the development of waterborne coatings and is a major change for the region

As a result, those in China’s paint and coatings industry are increasingly turning to water-based paint, which offers a lower VOC alternative to solvent-based paints. Water-based industrial paints replace most or all organic solvents with water, reducing or eliminating the presence of VOCs. However, it isn’t nearly as simple as removing solvents and replacing them with water. There are other factors to consider, including:


  • End use. Water evaporates quickly in warm conditions and freezes in cold weather, restricting the window in which the coatings can be applied in outdoor conditions.
  • Chemistries of the other components in the paint. These may need to be altered in order to react properly with water, versus a solvent.

Water-based coatings need to deliver the same performance properties in applications that you would normally find in a solvent-based coating. To find the right colorant solution for these water-based coatings, it’s critical to involve the colorant company in the research and development process from the beginning. The wrong colorant can have a negative impact on your product’s overall durability, visual appeal when applied, surface adhesion, lightfastness and other factors.


Making the shift

Water-based industrial coatings remain a comparatively small niche within the worldwide market, but that’s rapidly changing.

Heavily populated countries such as Indonesia have not yet enacted VOC regulations on a broad scale. However, as problems tied to pollution and safety continue to mount, it’s likely that other countries will follow China’s lead as the massive market – and companies that do business there – move toward widespread usage of water-based paints and coatings. And industrial paint and coatings companies must become increasingly proactive in developing water-based products that perform as well as solvent-based products, and develop and promote water-based paint systems within the Asia-Pacific market.

The time to begin the conversation is now. How will your company approach the new reality of water-based industrial coatings? And how long will it take to go from planning to development to the rollout of new products?


Chromaflo Technologies is a leading provider of solar reflective colorant technologies for architectural and industrial coatings. Contact a Chromaflo representative to make the switch to water-based paint.

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