Innovation across the coatings industry is frequently driven by public pressure and governmental regulation, as certain classes of materials are identified to be problematic from an environmental or health perspective. Recently, the industry converted away from can coatings based on bisphenol-A (BPA) once it was identified as a potential endocrine disruptor. This market shift resulted from a rapid change in regulation driven by public pressure. Now, anticipated regulation will force much of the industry to move away from perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) because of their environmental persistence and toxicity. Many companies are now scrambling to invent and introduce alternative repellent chemistries. The logical question then becomes, “What’s Next?” What is the next material that will feel enough public and regulatory pressure to require reformulation of existing technology?

There is good evidence to believe that ablative marine paints based on copper biocides will soon see a similar wave of technology shift based on regulation. The marine coatings segment has already experienced it once, after tributyltin (TBT) was outlawed in the early 2000’s, and copper was chosen as a less lethal biocide to control marine biofouling. But some local jurisdictions have already begun putting pressure on copper, as it harms the overall marine life in their harbors. Compounding this is newer pressure on the ablative resins themselves, which have been identified as a potentially significant source of microplastic pollution in the ocean. If regulation starts to limit one or both of these materials, how will marine coating suppliers respond?

Silicone-based foul release technology has existed in this market as an alternative to ablative biocidal paints for a few decades, but due to perceived performance deficiencies it has not converted more than ~10% of the market. To address this gap, AST developed and validated the next generation of non-toxic coatings and additives that outperform incumbent foul-release technologies. What’s even more exciting is the dynamic, real-world performance of our products, as ongoing vessel testing continues to show our technology is competitive with even biocidal foul-release coatings. By resetting the performance bar for foul-release, this technology class is better poised to take market share as buying decisions become increasingly environmentally driven and regulations get more stringent.

As seen with the transition to non-BPA can coatings, a regulatory-driven technology shift can be both a risk and an opportunity. Barriers to entry to are suddenly lowered when there is new, regulation-driven need for more compliant chemistry, and existing commercial relationships don’t matter as much as the technical performance of the new products. Market-leading products can suddenly lose considerable share, and new entrants can grow significantly. In the end, the best-performing products that meet the new regulatory requirements will win.