Ten Companies to Watch in Self-Cleaning Surfaces and Coatings

n-tech Research believes that self-cleaning materials likely will become one of the largest segments of the smart materials business, growing from around $250 million today to around $3.3 billion by 2020, and then doubling to $7.7 billion by 2022.

There may be 100-200 companies involved in this sector in some way. However, a select handful stand out by virtue of their size and market power, history in self-cleaning materials, and/or stated intentions in this space. We will continue to watch their progress — jointly, perhaps — in bringing leading-edge self-cleaning technologies into commercial use.

Alcoa (U.S.):  The Future of Self-Cleaning Building Panels

Alcoa has sold self-cleaning coating on building panels since the 1960s. Since 2011 it has sold an EcoClean version of its metal/metal-composite building exterior panels (Reynolux and Reynobond), incorporating Toto’s (Japan) super-hydrophilic TiO2 -based technology to not only keep the surface clean but also cleanse the surrounding air to a degree.

Importantly, the firm figured out how to get coating onto pre-painted aluminum architectural panels — uncoiled, coated, cured, and recoiled in minutes, vs. time-consuming and expensive manual application after the panels are installed. The panels reportedly cost only a small premium (4-5%). At one point Alcoa claimed that the panels could cut a building’s maintenance costs by up to half.

n-tech believes that Alcoa is worth watching because it has the potential market power to push self-cleaning building materials beyond its current niche product status. It has also been in this space for many years, so it is not naïve in terms of the challenges of making self-cleaning happen in a big way.

Italcementi (Italy):  Presenting Porous Self-Cleaning Materials

Like Alcoa, this company has market power and long technology experience. From initial work on its photocatalytic (TiO2 ) technology back in the mid-1990s, it found use in Rome’s new Church of the Year 2000 to maintain the bright white color of the structure’s exterior walls. Branded as TX Active, it is used in cement, concrete, and stucco, in product forms ranging from precast panels to in-place structures to tiles. The company has claimed test results showing that covering some (15 percent) of a large city’s visible urban surfaces with TX Active would result in a 50 percent reduction in pollution.

Heidelberg Cement’s acquisition of Italmobiliare’s 45 percent stake in Italcementi (July 2015) could further expand addressable markets, as this will create the second-largest global player in cement with nearly €17 billion in sales across more than 60 countries, and production capacity of 200 million tons.

NSG/Pilkington (U.K.):  Self-Cleaning Glass Pioneer

NSG/Pilkington has been the pioneer in the self-cleaning glass business with its Activ line of products, sold in several varieties from clear to colors, some combined with solar control. The firm says Activ glass is used in both residential and commercial markets, though as n-tech understands it this has been mostly in the residential sector. Still, the company does sell a Cervoglass Activ IGU product for conservatory roofs and side-frame glass combining self-cleaning with solar control and thermal insulation properties.

The breadth of the company’s current offering suggests that NSG/Pilkington may eventually pave new directions in self-cleaning glass. However, this is far from certain. In North America the company isn’t actively focusing on the Activ self-cleaning glass and claims to not be pursuing further development here.

P2i (U.K.): Showing Small Firms How It’s Done

We point to P2i, incorporated in 2004 to commercialize technologies developed by the U.K. government’s Defense Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL), as an example and inspiration for smaller companies that have designs on large end-markets.

From an initial goal to protect soldier’s uniforms from chemical attacks, the firm has patented a “Dunkable” invisible, and electrically conductive, hydrophobic coating for application on a wide range of consumer electronic devices. It also should be possible to produce this coating cost-effectively on a large scale.

In May 2015 Huawei started using the liquid repellant nanocoating on its new P8 flagship devices to protect against corrosion caused by everyday environments and accidents, primarily liquid splashes and spills, humidity, and sweat. Other stated customers include ReSound (since 2010, for hearing aids) and Plantronics (audio and wearable technologies, since 2012).

PureTi (U.S.): Big Names in Niches, for Now

PureTi’s photocatalytic coating can be electrostatically sprayed onto just about any substrate (glass, concrete, metal, stone, plastic, paint), where it cures in 24-35 hours into a rigid, translucent shell. The firm is developing several iterations, one of which targets curtains and window treatments to oxidize volatile and other organic compounds.

Among the firm’s customers are surfaces around the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium, helping to reduce $90,000-per-game cleaning bills and related water usage. It also has worked with NASA, used on surfaces (walls and equipment) at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and participating in efforts to explore keeping structures clean on the International Space Station.

Interestingly, another end customer is Johnson Controls (JCI), which has deployed PureTi’s technology at its offices in the U.S. and Shanghai. As we discuss below, JCI itself knows a few things about smart coated surfaces.

Saint-Gobain (France):  Multidirectional Smarts

Although Saint-Gobain doesn’t yet really have any products that could be considered truly self-cleaning, we see this company as moving towards self-cleaning from a number of different routes.

The firm openly markets its hydrophilic BioClean coating as being part of a “multi-comfort” window glazing encompassing various functional coating options. It also sells other types of glass that provide some semblance of self-cleaning functionality: ViewClear glass resists the buildup of condensation on exterior panes, and Timeless glass for shower panels and bath screens features a deposited metal-oxide “micro-coating” to make water “slip off” and thus repel lime scale.

Saint-Gobain also has been one of the strong supporters of self-dimming auto glass, which could give it an easier pathway into adding other smart functionality such as self-cleaning. We are not aware, however, of any crossover of the company’s Bioclean glass for building windows into the automotive sector.

SLIPS Technologies (U.S.): A Vision of True Multifunctional Smart Surfaces

SLIPS Technologies was formed less than a year ago to commercialize an omniphobic “liquid-infused” slippery polymer coatings approach, developed through Harvard University and the Wyss Institute. This technology matches surface structuring and chemical functionalization with infused liquids to overlay a lubricant on a surface, on which fluids and solids alike can slide off easily. The company envisions applications in energy, automotive, environmental, and manufacturing sectors, as well as several kinds of textiles and clothing.

Not only is SLIPS perhaps the best known example of a multifunctional coating, it also represents the kind of partnership we envision between big and small companies — including and possibly emphasizing large chemical companies. A strategic investment and joint development agreement between SLIPS and BASF illustrates this.

Toto (Japan):  Self-Cleaning Central

Toto’s super-hydrophilic TiO2 -based HydroTect coating decomposes dirt on the tile surface to be washed away by rainwater, while also reducing airborne pollutants. One reason that we have this firm on our watch list is its desire and ability to make important partnerships to grow its self-cleaning technology, including Alcoa and Casalgrande.

Toto also on its own focuses on products for high-traffic building interiors, such as baths and kitchens, touting its ability to neutralize odors and stains.

Ultratech International (U.S.): Advanced Self-Cleaning Coatings, Three Ways

Ultratech International created social media buzz a few years ago with videos demonstrating its Ultra-Ever Dry super-hydrophobic coating — people in business-casual clothes had buckets of mud thrown at them, with the one wearing treated clothes entirely repelling the splash. In late 2014 Ultra-Ever Dry was used for Nissan’s prototype LEAF car with a self-cleaning exterior, though Nissan so far has no commercialization plans for that.

The company also is commercializing two other related technologies, licensed from Luna Innovations. EverShield for textiles originally targeted military uniforms, although Ultratech has a worldwide license allowing applications beyond that. The company also says it is nearly ready to unveil Gentoo, developed as a more durable rain- and mud-repellant coating for F-16 fighter jet canopies to improve visibility during takeoffs and landings on carriers. That technology, the firm claims, also has been evaluated by an unidentified cell phone company.

Yanfeng Interiors (China/U.S.):  Setting the Pace for Smart Vehicle Interiors

Yanfeng Automotive Interiors (YFAI), a joint venture formed in July 2015 between Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems and Johnson Controls (JCI), apparently is continuing the innovations that JCI has long pursued on high-tech car interiors, from self-cleaning to antimicrobial and other embedded functions.

At the IAA automotive show in September 2015, Yanfeng showed an Innovation Demonstrator 2016 (ID16) concept car that includes an antimicrobial surface. Self-cleaning is not specifically mentioned, but consistently this has been one area that JCI has explored and presumably will continue to do so as YFAI. YFAI foresees a 2025 timeframe for incorporation of much of this functionality, tied mainly to the arrival of self-driving cars. The company also is focused on vehicles used strictly in an urban environment, with fleets of “purpose-built” vehicles.

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