With a variety of performance features like low surface tension and chemical resistance, paired with their cost-in-use value, fluorosurfactants are popular. However, there's growing focus around their use, with particular emphasis on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). There has been significant regulatory activity at both the state and federal level, as well as proposed legislation in several states. It is clear that the regulatory landscape is becoming more stringent. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed multiple new rules to combat PFAS pollution. At the same time, states are also looking at restrictions that create a challenging patchwork of regulation within which businesses must maneuver.
We try to provide solutions for societal needs, and this is a societal need driven by regulations.
BASF Technical Service Specialist, Formulation Additives
Finding a solution
As a solution provider, BASF is on the case.
"We try to provide solutions for societal needs, and this is a societal need driven by regulations," Moy says. "In the future, people or industries are not going to have access to this tool, so we've been doing work that looks for alternatives."
He continues to explain how the key to finding a solution lies in identifying a core performance attribute that PFAS is bringing, and then using that to determine what types of traditional surfactants can deliver those features.
"Fluorosurfactants are not easy to replace because they provide a multitude of performance features for coatings like easy to clean, extreme surface tension reduction, and anti-foam," Moy says. "What we've found is that traditional surfactants typically do not have the breadth of performance attributes, but certain families of surfactants effectively compete with fluorosurfactants in singular categories."
He brings up the example of silicone surfactants. Because silicones are low-energy and provide anti-slip performance, they can be used as an easy-to-clean replacement.
Putting insight into practice
One industry where BASF is looking to instigate change is the water-based floorcare market. Used in places like hospitals, airports, and schools where you have vinyl tile floors with high foot traffic and spills, it's a sector that uses PFAS because of its performance attributes and good cost-in-use value.
"This industry has used this because they saw its performance and didn't see any need to look elsewhere," says Moy. "It's the age-old adage, don't fix what isn't broken. But now times have changed, and the regulatory pressure has increased to a point that key manufacturers in that sector are looking for alternatives to stay ahead of the curve."
After doing some work to see what traditional surfactants could be used in place of PFAS for flow and leveling, which affect the look of a coating, the top candidate was a specially modified silicone surfactant.
"We're actively working to refine our formulating practices and develop new chemistries to provide more performance," Moy says. "One of the new types of chemistries is hybrid-silicone technology where we're taking silicone molecules and modifying them to get next-level performance."
Building a better future
With regulatory bodies concerned about PFAS in both the industrial coatings market and beyond, BASF is committed to adapting.
"BASF is a solution provider, but we also drive sustainable solutions and are always innovating in new chemistries as an alternative to upcoming challenges in the industry," says Louis Althusser Ángeles Ortega, Global Additives Industry Marketing Manager, North America.
"The solutions we have already might relate to the floorcare market but we're also thinking about the automotive, decorative, and industrial coatings space. We always want to contribute towards a viable future with a better quality of life for everyone."
Our Hydropalat®️ WE 3225 is a silicone based wetting agent with pronounced defoaming action for all kinds of aqueous spray coating formulations. It combines excellent compatibility and wetting action with defoaming properties and has been proven to yield the best coating appearance (flow and leveling) as an alternative to fluorosurfactants. For more on how BASF is staying ahead of PFAS regulations, check out our podcast on fluorosurfactant alternatives.