May 11, 2021
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
It’s Time for Take Two on TiO2
For years, the paint industry has been trying to find ways to reduce TiO2 content. In 2021, it is more relevant than ever.
Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) is essential to paint formulations confirming long-lasting whiteness, brightness, and opacity for use in many applications. Although crucial, its use brings many challenges to decorative paint manufacturers. This overview shows the market challenges occurring in that industry and what solutions are available for manufacturers.
TiO2 prices peaking every three years
TiO2 prices are highly volatile. Approximately, every three years they vary with an upwards trend. In 2012, prices reached a peak of approximately 5,000 USD/tonne, followed by a 40% decline until 2015. Between 2015 and 2018, prices registered a 30% rise to 3,299 USD/tonne average.
Currently, we are experiencing another price peak. The severe supply chain disruption caused in 2020 by COVID-19 in China - which produces over 50% of the world's TiO2 - has led to a lead time of three-four months by most manufacturers and a 30% increase in the prices since January 2021.
“Driven by supply uncertainty, end-users tend to increase their order quantities to ensure the upkeep of their production. This causes a bullwhip effect and reduces the global available quantity of this white pigment. TiO2 manufacturers are struggling to work off their order books in time. The winter storm in southern parts of the US in February and the global cargo space shortage for sea transport add further layers of complexity to this issue”, explains Marten Reimers, Product Manager at IMCD Coatings & Construction.
Growing demand for high-purity TiO2 feedstock is further pushing prices up. This comes from environmentally aware coatings manufacturers, who increasingly choose the chloride process for commercial TiO2 extraction. High-purity TiO2 feedstock is essential to this process, which is more eco-friendly than the alternative sulphate process of TiO2 extraction – this requires non-recyclable sulphuric acid.
Prices for sulphate TiO2 increased from approximately 2,400 USD/tonne to more than 3,100 USD/tonne within five months. For chloride TiO2 prices increased even further from approximately 2,500 USD/tonne to nearly 3,300 USD/tonne.
New EU regulation on TiO2 usage
Another challenge that is causing paint manufacturers to want to reduce TiO2 is related to a new regulation. In 2020, the European Commission classified TiO2 as a category 2 suspected carcinogen by inhalation.
Therefore, as of October 2021, powder that contains 1%+ of TiO2 particles with an aerodynamic diameter ≤ 10 μm will be subject to new labelling laws. Even though liquid paints and mixtures that have the same content of TiO2 are exempt from this classification, they will have additional labelling requirements.
As a reaction, the European TiO2 manufacturers claim that they do not see evidence in health effects from TiO2 exposure, rather a risk associated with all dust hazards. The paint industry believes that such regulatory measures are a challenge since few viable alternatives have been identified – so far.
Seeking brighter solutions
The industry's need for a TiO2 reduction is driving innovation, as manufacturers search for solutions that deliver on quality, performance, value, and safety.
Currently, paint manufacturers rely on three options to reduce TiO2.
Fillers are a lower-priced choice. Calcined kaolin and calcium carbonate are examples of fillers used to reduce TiO2. However, calcinated kaolin may cause gloss reduction and increase the paint’s viscosity, and calcium carbonate does not deliver a good performance as it can convey a yellow tone.
They allow paint formulators to work on Pigment Volume Concentration (PVC) with low binder demand. Despite increasing dry opacity, they do not improve the wet opacity.
These provide good levelling and a uniform film appearance, by avoiding roller patterns during the application. When added into the formulation, rheology modifiers can reduce the amount of TiO2 by 12.5wt% without any loss of opacity or performance quality. Additionally, by changing the rheology modifiers package to a more newtonian behaviour, it allows developing shorter-range structures and no droplet formation in the roller and brush, leading to a better spatter resistance.
If you want to read more about how to reduce TiO2 through rheology modifiers, visit our page.
You can also download our 2021 trends commentary, "Building Tomorrow" to find out more about how our solutions and ingredients respond to growing consumer awareness of labels while delivering product performance and value.