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Scale up of the Continuous Production Method for Nano-sized Precipitated Calcium Carbonate, and market Introduction for Industrial End Use

A Finnish SME eyes new factory in Germany after developing a green process for producing a versatile pigment for paint, varnish, plastics and paper.

After the two-year EU-funded UFPCC project, FP-Pigments, the company behind the project, has applied for five patents on a continuous process for producing ultra-fine precipitated calcium carbonate (UFPCC) and its end uses.

Calcium carbonate is a common chemical substance found in marble, chalk or even calcium supplements. When synthetically produced using a precipitation process, manufacturers can control its particle size and shape to use it in all kinds of products including paint and varnishes.

FP-Pigments, a Finnish SME, has been manufacturing opaque pigments since 2006 with factories in Finland, Germany, and the US. Its current success is based on an innovative, patented, continuous production method. Its breakthrough during the EU project was to demonstrate the benefits of a novel manufacturing method for ultra-fine precipitated calcium carbonate (UFPCC).

“Those smaller particles have advantages when mixed into products like water-based clear coats because the UFPCC doesn’t give any white shade, so the coating remains clear and transparent,” said UFPCC project coordinator Mr Sami Haakana, R&D Director at FP-Pigments.

Until now, most methods of making UFPCC were based on batch production, which made scaling up production difficult. FP-Pigments developed a continuous UFPCC production process on the project, which could be scaled up.

The benefits of refining the method are clear: UFPCC improves blocking resistance in pigmented and transparent coatings. It can prevent permanent, unsightly damage to the coating’s surface and can also be used in coatings to control paint film porosity. The technique has the additional benefit of preventing dirt penetrating the film’s surface.

For the same reasons, the food packaging industry is showing interest in FP-Pigments’ UFPCC as a possible replacement for plastic barrier materials in packaging, making it recyclable and compostable.

A new way of manufacturing UFPCC

At its test factory in Valkeakoski, 150 km north of Helsinki, researchers on the project worked with process equipment manufacturers to trial the UFPCC production line. They investigated the best available technology for cost-effective ways to remove water and dry the liquid form of UFPCC into powder.

The company also found a way to re-circulate process water and energy within the production process. A carbonation process releases heat that is then collected in a closed-loop system so that the energy can be used at a later stage in the process.

The resulting product was tested by 100 potential clients of FP-Pigments. The company is now in talks to close contracts before investing in an additional plant at a chemical park in Leuna, eastern Germany, where it already operates a 3 000 sq m factory for opacity pigment.

“The technical part of the plan is ready and we’re now securing commercial commitments. We expect the product sales to start in 2022,” says Haakana.

The stakes are high: The global paints and coatings market alone is projected to reach $262.5 billion about EUR 230.4 billion by 2023 according to a report released in January by market researchers

FP-Pigments currently employ 80 people at its facilities in Finland, the United States and Germany and is aiming to employ ‘close to 200’ more staff once UFPCC production takes off.

“As an SME, the EU funding has been critical to us for accelerating the development of this product. It has also enabled us to introduce the product more broadly to industrial end-users”, says Haakana.

Reference source: Scale up of the Continuous Production Method for Nano-sized Precipitated Calcium Carbonate, and market Introduction for Industrial End Use

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