The smart-coatings sector needs to make it a priority to keep expanding its applications in mainstream coating markets, says Prof. Jamil Baghdachi. We spoke to the director of the Coatings Research Institute at Eastern Michigan University about the state-of-the-art in smart coatings.
Smart coatings are already a vibrant enough topic to have spawned dozens of R&D projects. What is the next big thing when it comes to smart coatings?
Prof. Jamil Baghdachi: Smart coatings have been with us for much longer than the term itself has, and many offer functionalities and capabilities that cannot be achieved in any other way. In recent years, advanced multi-functional materials have become a subset of smart coatings. This combination has been driving a frenzy of activity in terms of both research and commercialization. The main activities are and need to be continuing to expand applications in mainstream coating markets and to improve long-term durability, ease of repair and application options.
Nature serves often as a role model when it comes to functional coatings. What other functions in nature seem interesting and promising as the inspiration for R&D in the field of novel smart/functional coatings?
Baghdachi: When we attempt to create smart and multifunctional materials, there are no better models than what is around us, including the millions of living species that have preceded us. Nature has the blueprints and procedures for developing products and processes, if we choose to mimic nature’s genius. Nature often uses shapes rather than pigments to produce color, such as the feathers of a peacock, which is considered a structural color. There are so many good examples, such as self-healing and self-assembly found in pearl shells or plants’ color changes to resist the harmful UV radiation and nutrient distribution methods, not to mention shape memory or self-stratifying properties. The best ideas may not be ours!
For which functional coatings do you see a larger demand in the market: the ones with intrinsic or extrinsic functionalities?
Baghdachi: In general, all coatings are functional in some form or another. Adhesion, corrosion inhibition, self-healing and hydrophobicity are among such functionalities. While the desire and demand for intrinsic (autonomous) functionalities are greater due to convenience and novelty, the demand is also being offset due to the need for the skills and expertise required for efficient application. Developing intrinsic functionalities that work under undefined conditions and with long-term durability and performance is still a formidable challenge. If extrinsically functional coatings are more tunable, their function and magnitude is more predictable, and they enjoy higher usage volumes.
Where do you see the biggest challenges when it comes to functional/smart coatings?
Baghdachi: The most challenging task continues to be how to expand the proofs of concept to develop coatings with many marginally compatible materials, coatings that can be applied and used on a wide variety of substrates and conditions. The biggest issue in developing smart coatings is to improve their predictability of function, magnitude and long-term durability. And the major problem in functional coatings remains their economy and long-term performance. It is clear that many technologies which are now simply interesting research projects will find their way into mainstream coatings application in the not-too-distant future.
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