Smarter solutions poised to drive growth in high-performance paints and coatings

There will be a steady expansion in world demand for high-performance paints and coatings across the next five years according to the latest data from Smithers Apex.

Global consumption for all paints and coatings was at just over 33.6 million tonnes in 2015, with annual growth of 3.1% predicted for the remainder of the decade – driven largely by increased demand from Asia. Within this high-performance products form a significant and potentially lucrative segment.

High-performance requirements dominate several key paint and coatings markets, but the nascent high performance decorative segment is set to see the most rapid expansion across the next five years.


In 2015, high-performance paints and coatings demand was 9.89 million tonnes and valued at $41.87 billion according to the Smithers Apex market report The Future of High-Performance Paints and Coatings to 2021. This represents a 29% share by volume of the global paints and coatings market, and a 35% share of global value. High-performance applications will become more important to coatings and paint producers across the next five years, as it grows at a steady year-on-year rate of 4.6% to reach nearly 13 million tonnes in 2021.

Whereas decorative products dominate the broader paint and coatings sector (58% by volume), the market landscape in high-performance solutions is markedly different. Here protective coatings, marine coatings and automotive products are the key applications.

For manufacturers of protective coatings for steel and concrete, low oil and gas prices have lead to major cut-backs in exploration and expansion of production facilities, reducing demand from this industry. This has been offset to a large extent however by investment in infrastructure projects and the sustainable energy industry, consuming products used to protect new equipment – in particular wind turbines.

In Asia and Latin America, rising disposable income levels is fuelling greater demand for personal transport, building new markets for high-performance coatings for the automotive and motorcycle industries. At the same time, increased urbanisation and the resultant traffic congestion is prompting many cities to invest in public transport rail and bus infrastructure. In Europe and North America, initiatives on reducing exhaust emissions and on green transport policies are also aimed at improved public transport networks, which can create new opportunities.

Green paints

Within the decorative paints segment, a key driver for coating development is reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This is in response to both tougher environmental regulations and consumer demands for ‘greener’ products. This trend on its own does not necessarily result in higher performance products, as the primary objective is to match existing performance criteria with paints containing lower levels of VOCs.

Technical evolution towards higher performing decorative paints is posited on adding additional functions. For indoor use this includes reduced maintenance with easy-cleaning paints; anti-microbial paints; and wall paints that absorb airborne pollutants. For example, interior paints have been introduced – especially in France and the US – that use a new water-based acrylic binder that absorbs formaldehyde, a cancer causing chemical present in adhesives and engineered wood materials used in furniture.

In exterior applications evolution of high-durability masonry paints, easy-cleaning or self-cleaning wall paints, offer maintenance savings across the lifetime of a building or piece of equipment. High-performance exterior paints and coatings can also help control the internal conditions in a building, with paints optimised to provide a degree of insulation and cool-roof coatings that reflect UV from sunlight.

Across the 2016-2021 period, Smithers concludes this type of additional functionality will make the previously underdeveloped high-performance decorative segment the fastest growing, with a year-on-year expansion of 7.1%.


Exploiting engineered nanomaterials for performance is a key focus for the global coatings and paints industry. Smithers predicts that use of nanotechnologies for performance enhancement will gradually increase as their relative benefits are better understood.

For example, the germ-killing properties of nanosilver are adding new options in anti-microbial paints. Healthcare is an obvious application with areas painted in these products helping reduce the spread of deadly ‘superbugs’ like methicillin-resistantstaphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and clostridium difficile (C-Diff). Antimicrobial preparations can also be used to kill insect. Top of the target list for paint producers are mosquitoes – the disease vector for malaria which still afflicts large areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The emergence of the zika virus in Brazil – which is also spread by mosquitoes – is likely to boost interest in such products, at least in the short term.

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide both act as UV absorbers; this property is significantly enhanced when a nanoform of either is used, due to the resultant vast increase in surface area exposed to sunlight. Adding these to the formulation of an exterior facade paint or a clear wood lacquer will improve the exterior durability of the applied coating layer, by slowing the degradation of the polymer by UV from sunlight.

Nanotitanium dioxide is also photocatalytic – meaning its absorption of UV from sunlight produces hydroxyl radicals. These rapidly decompose airborne pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, VOCs, bacteria, fungi, odours and nicotine. The pollutants are converted into water and carbon dioxide, consequently this is also finding a market in interior wall paints that can actively improve indoor air quality.

Integrating nanomaterials poses technical problems however, as with nanosilica, which can improve surface hardness, abrasion, scratch and weather resistance. The nanosilica can affect the flexibility of the coating layer, reducing its ability to resist swelling and shrinking due to atmospheric temperature and humidity changes, though this can be mitigated by careful choice of binder.

Leveraging the unique material properties of graphene for adding corrosion resistance and even electrical conductivity to paints is also being actively investigated; though market deployment is likely to be several years away at best.

Smart coatings

R&D will continue to focus on introducing smart solutions – paints and coatings that offer additional functions. Scratch and abrasion resistance remain key goals for applications like, wall paints, smart devices and motor vehicles. In the later segment Nissan is already enjoying commercial success with its Scratch Shield product. The Japanese car manufacturer estimates that a car painted with Scratch Shield will have five times fewer scratches over its service life, compared to a vehicle coated with a conventional clearcoat.

Easy-cleaning paints and coatings – which permit stains and dirt to be removed easily through the use of hydrophobic additives such as waxes, fluoro-additives or ceramic microspheres – also have a strong commercial appeal. In future this may extend to using nanomaterials like nanosilica or other structures inspired by the hydrophobic surface of lotus flowers. Successful development will allow such technologies to progress from their current commercial use in limited but high-value applications, such as electronics and aerospace industries to broader markets – for example in coating car  windscreens to prevent rain droplets from clinging to the glass.

Smithers Apex concludes that these trends will conspire to produce a demand for smart coatings that will be over $1 billion by 2021. Consumption will continue to grow very rapidly, exceeding $10 billion by 2026.

The Future of High-Performance Paints and Coatings to 2021 presents volume and value forecasts by end-use sector and geographic region. Following several stages of primary and secondary research, it examines key drivers and trends, which include economic, social and demographic, trends within decorative and the different industrial coatings segments and key new technologies for future innovative high-performance coatings.