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Unravelling the mysteries of how paint works

SusCoRD project aims to slow down corrosion


Imagine a world without paint. Our everyday lives would be far less colourful, because paint’s use isn’t restricted to house decoration and creating wonderful works of art. Its application extends to vital infrastructure such as wind turbines and bridges, and commercially in respect of cars and airplanes. How well would these amenities function without paint?  

It’s a question we’re always asking, so that we can make our products perform even better for longer. That’s why learning more about how paint works is at the heart of the Sustainable Coatings by Rational Design project (SusCoRD), which we’ve co-funded with the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The five-year SusCoRD project, launched back in 2018, has seen AkzoNobel join forces with the Universities of Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool, which are renowned for their expertise in corrosion science, materials characterisation, polymer science and machine learning.

Claudio Di Lullo, Manager of AkzoNobel’s Substrate Protection Expertise Centre, explains how the collaboration started: “About 12 years ago, we set up a partnership with Manchester University because we recognise that corrosion is one of the big challenges we have to face. We make paint, we develop paint. We understand the practical applications and what’s needed to make it perform.

“What the university brings is the ability to characterise, analyse and understand some of the mechanisms. They can do deeper science that’s an essential part of understanding what’s going on. We get fresh insights that will help us to develop the next generation of paint.”

The multi-disciplinary SusCoRD project can be split into two key areas:

  • Analysis of the components of the coating – to explore the role that binding properties and the adhesion between the coating and substrate play in corrosion
  • The use of digital technology – machine learning, predictive approaches, modelling and simulation – to find ways to speed up the process of developing new paints and coatings

 Speaking of the SusCoRD project, Manchester University’s Professor Stuart Lyon said: “The work we’ve done so far has involved using all these analytical tools to explore the science behind how paint works and to create opportunities to make paints differently. The next stage is to use that information to develop tools that make paint in different ways, using different materials, which are perhaps more sustainable – which last longer, which create assets that have a much greater lifetime.”

David Williams, AkzoNobel’s Chief Innovation Officer, said the SusCoRD project focused on one of the company’s four innovation drivers – asset protection. “That’s why the project’s such a good fit for us,” he said. “Protecting surfaces and products is a priority for our customers, so we’re always striving to deliver products and services that exceed their high expectations when it comes to longevity, chemical resistance and the accurate prediction of maintenance cycles.”

SusCoRD is due to come to an end later this year. However, follow-up Prosperity Partnership funding is being sought to test hypotheses – and further unravel the mysteries of how paint prevents corrosion.