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STYRIA, AUSTRIA, February 26, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Wood floors, garden furniture, paintings in various indoor and outdoor use - hardly anyone uses paints in the course of her or his life. Most commonly in use are so-called "alkyd resins"; in Europe alone there are produced 700,000 tons per year. But hardly anyone was aware until now that the paint will dry, because the heavy metal cobalt accelerates the drying process. Recently it was discovered that cobalt is potentially carcinogenic which makes the paint industry think on alternatives.
Cytec Austria and the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) found a solution to replace Cobalt by enzymes which make paints ecologically friendly. "We had the idea to use enzymes instead of metals in 2009," says Professor George Gubitz, enzyme specialist at acib and professor at the Institute for Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna. The enzyme was derived from the tree sponge Trametes hirsute or "Hairy Bracket", isolated from Gubitz's garden in Graz. "We knew that the fungus contains the enzyme type we were looking for," explains Gubitz. So a piece of mushroom was harvested, the active enzyme isolated and proliferated.
The enzyme called "Laccase" is able to combine fatty acid molecules in the alkyd resin with the aid of oxygen from the air so that the paint dries and solidifies. Previously this was only possible with the help of heavy metals; particularly cobalt was used. Lately a new EU-regulation demands that only 10 ppm of cobalt are allowed in new in coatings as of 2013. Currently, a useful paint works only with 200 ppm of cobalt - 20 times the amount of the potentially harmful substance!
The paint manufacturer Cytec Austria with laboratories in Graz and the production unit in Werndorf is a pioneer in environmentally friendly technologies. The development of water-soluble resins and varnishes in the end of the 20th century was a major contribution to the banning of toxic and hazardous solvents from these products. Now Cytec goes a step further and eliminates the next health hazard by replacing cobalt by biocatalysts. "The attributes "free of heavy metals" and "biocatalyzed" are perfect marketing arguments for the sale of new products," states project manager Roland Feola from Cytec Austria.
In the project partnership Cytec Austria provides the alkyd resin while acib handles the enzymes and provides the scientific basis specifically in the area of biotechnology. Besides Cytec handles the application-oriented issues of the paint manufacturing process and brings in it's know-how about product- and market requirements.
The partnership finally led not only to a more environmentally friendly paint, but also to a new measurement method for monitoring the hardening of the resin. "We have developed an optical measurement system to monitor the decrease of the oxygen content in the coating film," says acib-scientist Katrin Greimel. Oxygen decreases during the hardening process. This is the first high-precision observation method of paint hardening in a small scale which facilitates research a lot.
The project has already been filed for a patent; the approval is expected soon. The introduction on the market is planned for 2014. Just now, the project was knighted scientifically - by contributing in the journal "Green Chemistry" including the print on the front page (http://goo.gl/bLVoD).
Info: Alkyd Resins
Alkyd paints consist of fatty acid molecules, color pigments and "siccatives" (the dryer). When a handyman spreads the paint on the furniture, the siccatives accelerate the connection of the fatty acid molecules by the incorporation of atmospheric oxygen and thus the drying of the paint. Previously, this task was taken over by metal compounds based on cobalt which turned out to be potentially harmful. Now it is possible to replace cobalt by enzymes - by natural and environmentally friendly biocatalysts.
The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) is a leading scientific flagship in industrial biotechnology with locations in Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna. As a a center of excellence acib is a network of currently ten universities and 30 international project partners, including companies such as BASF, DSM, Sandoz, Boehringer Ingelheim, Jungbunzlauer, F. Hoffmann-La Roche, Novartis, VTU Technology or Sigma Aldrich. Owners are the Universities of Innsbruck and Graz, Graz University of Technology, the University of Natural Resources, Vienna and Joanneum Research.
At acib, 190 employees work in more than 40 research projects. Public funding (58% of the budget) comes from the Research Promotion Agency of the Republic of Austria (FFG), the country Tyrol, the Styrian Business Promotion Agency (SFG) and the Technology Agency of the City of Vienna (ZIT). The EU funds additional projects such as CHEM21.
The competence center acib - Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology - is sponsored within COMET - Competence Centres for Excellent Technologies by the BMVIT, BMWFJ and the provinces of Styria, Tyrol and Vienna. The COMET program is handled by the FFG.
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