A new anti-corrosion coating that uses infrared light to bond new nanomaterials to steel could yield a more sustainable, less toxic substitute for the massive quantities of hazardous chemicals that are currently needed to hold our aging infrastructure together.
The technology is being developed by MesoCoat, the Edison Materials Technology Center, and Polythermics, LLC, under a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. Aside from the green benefit of cutting down on hazardous chemicals, the new approach promises lower costs and higher performance, winning sustainable points for extending the lifecycle of steel infrastructure elements and perhaps consumer products as well.
The Problem with Anti-Corrosion Coatings
Anti-Corrosion coatings form the thin line between a reliable infrastructure and a collapsing one, but the chemical coatings currently in use are out of date and inadequate. According to a 2002 study by the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. economy loses about $276 billion yearly due to metal corrosion. Aside from the economic issues, most coatings are made with lead, cadmium, chromium and other toxic substances. When they start to wear down – which they regularly do – they need to be stripped with volatile organic compounds before another coat is applied, adding another layer of toxic products to the process.
New Nanocomposite Coatings and Infrared Light
The new project would use infrared light to fuse nanocomposite metal-ceramic and polymer coatings onto steel. The focus is on larger surfaces including bridges, but smaller applications are another possibility. By using infrared light, the new process would bypass the need for electroplating, chromate primers, galvanizing, fusion-bonded epoxy, and other coatings that involve hazardous chemicals. The end goal is a fully portable, end-to-end system that uses high intensity white light to strip old coatings with less waste and lower volatile organic emissions, before fusing on the new nanomaterials.
Coatings Beyond Infrastructure
Toxic coatings are not just an infrastructure problem. They’re also a serious issue for indoor health and even for the U.S. military, which this year adopted a priority program for finding alternatives to hexavalent chromium coatings for vehicles and equipment. The U.S. Air Force is also testing PreKote, a non-toxic proprietary product, to prevent corrosion in aircraft. The expansion of offshore wind power and ocean power could also boost the demand for non-toxic anti-corrosion products.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.