We believe in advancing sustainability through collaboration
We partner with customers, academic institutions and other public and private entities to advance sustainable initiatives and technologies. Here are some highlights of our recent work.
Collaborating with Army Research Lab and academic partners to create more environmentally conscious coatings
In 2021, PPG began a new program with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to develop enhanced coatings for environmental sustainability. The program has a suite of projects designed to develop high performance polymers for key Army ground applications, including using bio-based materials, reducing the use of toxic compounds such as isocyanates, exploring methods to reduce solvent usage in corrosion protection coatings, and finding novel ways to reduce microbial contamination. These projects are all aimed at extending the useful life of military equipment and protect the health and well-being of service members.
PPG's land-based defense research team is working with the University of Virginia for fundamental understanding of corrosion mechanisms that will help with more sustainable primer and topcoat development. PPG is using star-shaped "hyperbranched" polymers that can lower the viscosity of paints, which in turn reduces the amount of solvents needed in solvent-borne coatings.
We are researching new approaches to reduce microbial contamination on high-touch surfaces, which will improve health and safety while reducing the use of hazardous biocides. In addition to incorporating antimicrobials into our coatings, an alternate strategy is to modify the coatings surface to make it hard for bacteria and fungi to stick. The University of Wisconsin, Madison is partnering with PPG's research team to develop screening and test methods to quantify the effectiveness of PPG’s antimicrobial prototypes. If successful, these coatings would reduce the need to use more hazardous biocides to keep surfaces clean. This research will help to deploy multiple layers of protection against common viruses and bacteria, which is increasingly important in a post-COVID world as customers are aware of the many contaminated surfaces they interact with every day.
Partnering with the U.S. Army to improve vehicles and coatings
For several years, we have been working with the Ground Vehicles Systems Center (GVSC) on a range of mission-critical technologies and innovations, from easy-to-clean coatings for military ground vehicles and mobile robotics systems that keep sensors clean and functioning through extreme conditions, to 3D printing to produce parts on demand.
Recently, PPG has been working with GVSC to develop silica-filled elastomers for Army vehicle track pads which would improve energy management by 20% and improve tire durability by 30% over current compounds. Silica fillers are known to provide better energy management performance compared to traditional carbon black fillers by reducing hysteresis, a measure of the energy lost when rubber deforms. This improved energy management translates to less fuel needed to move a vehicle. Greater durability, reliability and performance have a compelling advantage, enabling troops to reduce maintenance costs and alleviate demands on personnel, all while improving safety.
PPG silicas are already improving the performance of passenger car and truck tires through our AGILON® performance silica and PPG HI-SIL® silica product lines. In this program we are looking at silica's potential to improve rubber durability for much larger vehicles. Tires impact a vehicle's energy efficiency and the driver's overall experience. When paired with PPG's silica-filled elastomers, drivers experience improved energy management, which reduce fatigue, increase tear resistance and toughness, and manage energy and fuel consumption more efficiently.
Proving adhesives can be light, flexible and strong
The U.S. military is constantly looking to reduce weight in ground combat vehicle platforms, through a unique design and assembly of alternative materials. Unlike traditional joining methods such as welding and bolting, the lightweight design of PPG-manufactured adhesives reduces stress on a vehicle’s joints and minimize the likelihood of corrosion, prolonging its lifespan. Delivering lightweight solutions is as important for commercial and passenger vehicle manufacturers as improved fuel efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can lead to a 6-8% improvement in fuel economy.
In order to meet the rigorous performance demands of military vehicles, adhesives also need to be both strong and flexible. In a survey of all available adhesives, Army researchers found that traditional adhesives could be either strong or flexible—but rarely both. They worked with PPG to develop a new adhesive technology, PR-2901, that exceeded their expectations by delivering extreme adhesion while still absorbing the amount of energy necessary to have a blast-resistant bond. It has a 40% increased strength and 80% increase in strain-energy density compared to any previously tested adhesive for armor bonding.
But our R&D team isn't stopping there. Their work continues to improve the adhesive by developing versions that cure at lower temperatures. Lower curing temperatures mean less energy is consumed in the manufacturing process, while also expanding how and where the adhesives can be used. The ultimate goal is an adhesive that cures at ambient temperature, which will expand potential applications for the adhesive to bonding materials that can’t be baked in an oven.
Partnering with the Army's Construction Engineering Research Lab (CERL) to create tough coatings
Protection in extreme environments with applications in less-than-ideal conditions can often be a challenge for customers.
Our partnership with the Army's Construction Engineering Research Lab (CERL) and their Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) furthers our efforts to create innovative coatings that can withstand harsh environments. The CERL is the ideal partner to test our research with its high-quality facilities and weather equipment to simulate harsh terrain.
The ability to store, transport and build products across a variety of weather conditions yields new opportunities for military personnel and companies alike. Our research will develop new applications for civilians in the construction industry looking to paint throughout all four seasons, and for military operations in extreme weather climates. One path to more robust coatings is to modify polymers like polyurea, which is a spray-applied coating system that combines a resin with a cross-linking catalyst to create a tough coating that cures instantly. We will research these and other avenues to create stronger coatings, and also identify opportunities to avoid the logistical complexities and reduce emissions from shipping products in heated trucks or delivering to heated shipping docks.
Working with Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to build a safer, more sustainable vehicle
Through our continued partnership with Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, we are developing new methods of manufacturing electrodes for lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries to improve battery efficiency and reduce a workers' exposure to solvents in battery manufacturing.
We have been using our expertise as the first company to commercialize cathodic electrophoretic deposition — what we call electrocoat, or e-coat — to inform the development of advanced battery materials for electric cars and commercial vehicles.
While e-coat technology has been used traditionally to provide corrosion protection for vehicle panels and components, the research will focus on developing two versatile, high- output processes for producing battery electrodes. That, in turn, would help improve the efficiency and lower the cost of vehicle batteries, thus enhancing the commercial appeal of battery powered electric vehicles (BEVs). The Department of Energy (DOE)-supported project is part of the department's Energy Storage Grand Challenge to create and sustain global leadership in energy storage utilization and exports.
In addition to showing promise for greatly improving battery production efficiency, the new processes would eliminate the use of the solvent N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) in producing the conductivecarbon slurry that forms cathodes for Li-ion batteries. NMP, which is widely used in electrode manufacturing, has been identified as a reproductive hazard by several global regulatory agencies and was recently identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an "unreasonable risk" to workers in certain conditions. Through this project, we are also exploring how our NMP-free binders can be used in novel manufacturing processes and methods to create advanced battery electrodes.
Using new manufacturing processes can increase efficiency and lower the cost of making lithium-ion batteries.
Going with the flow: Developing more sustainable resins
Approximately 80% of the global coatings market consists of waterborne technologies, which are considered sustainably advantaged versus solventborne coatings. However, many waterborne coatings still contain and require volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or solvents for product performance. In order to reduce VOCs in our products and expand our waterborne offerings, new resin approaches are needed to maintain performance, remain competitive and continue to evolve the sustainability profile of our products.
A majority of waterborne coatings contain acrylic-based latex resins. These resins give the coatings desired physical properties, ensure shelf-life stability, and enable their aesthetic appearance. Developing latex particles, which provide necessary properties in the absence of solvents, is a significant challenge.
In partnership with Northwestern University, we are researching opportunities to alter the properties of latex particles to reduce VOCs in waterborne coatings. Specifically, we sought to fill a gap in our understanding of how resin design influences the resin architecture, and how the flow properties of materials can impact a number of performance factors—from leveling, to adhesion, to shelf-life stability.
Prior to this project, we were able to impart design features into our resins and test the coatings' response but were unable to see how these modifications changed the overall resin architecture, and how that architecture then changes when exposed to environmental factors. As part of our research with Northwestern, we analyzed latex response to a variety of solvents using small angle x-ray scattering, an analytical technique used to study latex particle structure, to understand how they might be used to reduce solvents. Proof of concept work was completed and the knowledge gained will allow PPG to design resins that will enable the development of low- and zero-VOC systems.