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Waterborne coatings: “increasing numbers, but still limited”, says latest COA Report

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COA Newsletter logo 10042015A new Report from the Container Owners Association (COA) shows that the use of waterborne coatings on shipping containers is on the rise, compared to last year. However, the COA says that despite this increase, usage is still limited.

Since the 2014 COA Report, the number of dry cargo containers manufactured with waterborne coatings has increased, from 20, 000TEU in 2013 to approximately 130, 000TEU in 2014. Despite the dramatic increase, this figure represents only 4 percent of containers produced in 2014; and, of the 130, 000TEU painted with waterborne coating last year, some 120, 000TEU were built at one particular factory, MCI Dongguan.

The Chinese government is taking action to curb pollution and this will lead to the replacement of solvent based paint on containers with waterborne. Growing pressure is being applied by regional government in the form of restrictions on emissions of VOCs from the use of solvent based paints and taxes on their use, but this has served to highlight the challenges faced by the container manufacturers to adapt their production lines to use waterborne paint.

One paint supplier offers a two coat waterborne system at a similar cost to existing solvent based paint, which can be applied with little modification of the production line, except for an increase in ventilation, but this uses a resin based anti-corrosion primer. For many years, the industry has used a three coat system with a zinc primer and to apply a waterborne version of this coating system will require substantial changes to container production lines to allow for curing between the application of coats. This and other factors unique to the waterborne paint, will add cost to the manufacture of containers on top of the fact that the paint itself will be more expensive.

As the COA Report states, it is therefore not surprising that most factories are still using solvent-based paints on containers and most buyers are still specifying them. Apart from the aforementioned MCI Dongguan, just a few factories – such as CIMC Dalian, Singamas Qidong and HXIC – are using waterborne coatings, and when they do, it is just on a fraction of their containers.

“We have seen an increase in the use of waterborne coating in 2014, ” says Nigel Stribley, Moderator of the COA’s Alternative Materials Committee and Director of Blue Sky Intermodal, “but this is in no way representative of the industry as a whole. It comes as no surprise that, with profitability under so much pressure in the industry, many companies are prioritising operational costs over environmental issues and are reluctant to risk potential coating problems on their new containers.

“The container industry will have to move to waterborne paint but the conversion will only gather momentum when container manufacturers are forced to tell buyers that, because of environmental rules, they can no longer use solvent-based coatings, ” adds Nigel Stribley. “Until then, most companies will continue to choose the cheaper and well proven route of solvent based paint”.


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