A Sustainable and Environmentally-Friendly Anti-Corrosion Paint from Chile could be a Market-Changer
Patricia Barros is a young Chilean materials civil engineer, researcher, co-founder and CEO of Soquimat, a science-technology startup producing and commercializing T-Coat, a sustainable self-healing anticorrosive paint.
The 30-year-old whose favorite subjects as a child were chemistry and mathematics wanted to contribute to impactful changes in society. After completing high school, she decided to study civil engineering at the University of Concepción in Chile. “I chose to study material engineering because I saw in materials science the way to produce those changes because most of the things we use are developed based on materials science,” she explained.
After completing her engineering degree, Patricia went on to study for an MBA because she wanted to combine engineering with economics and finance.
According to Patricia, corrosion has a global economic impact as the periodic replacement of corroded parts and machines is costing economies some US$2,5 billion annually, and in Chile alone US$8 million.
Anti-corrosion coating has been the most widely used solution to try to prevent corrosion. However, additives in anti-corrosion paints contain several undesirable ingredients, such as chromates and sulfates-based pigments. Those pigments are highly toxic both for human health and the environment.
T-Coat is a multifunctional and self-healing anticorrosive smart coating combining nanotechnology and renewable organic compounds. It protects ferrous and non-ferrous metal structures, which are exposed to the outdoors, and/or immersed in a saline medium.
“Our approach is completely different from current additives in anti-corrosion paints,” she explained, “we wanted to formulate a product using additives contributing to the circular economy.” Soquimat uses residues from the pulp and paper industry, which is one of the main industries in Chile, she said, providing an alternative use for waste.
Soquimat was co-founded in 2020 by four young researchers, each bringing expertise in their field: chemistry, materials engineering, and applied physics: Mytzy Godoy, Andrés Díaz, and Catalina Godoy. The T-Coat project started as a result of Patricia’s thesis work. Funding from the Agencia National de Investigación y Desarrollo (ANID) and the Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO) helped the researchers to validate the technology and take it to the commercial level.
T-Coat is a dual-use product. It acts as a primer and an anti-corrosive paint. Products currently on the market are single-use and come either as a primer or as an anti-corrosive coating. A finishing coating can be applied over the T-Coat layer but is by no means necessary. T-Coat comes in red, yellow, and black.
The multifunctionality of Soquimat’s T-Coat, its fast drying quality, and high solid content allow an average of 27 % cost reduction for customers compared to products already on the market because less quantity of T-Coat is necessary. Furthermore, because the innovative T-Coat has self-healing property, the maintenance frequency of the equipment decreases by about 15 to 25% depending on the direct environment. A single layer of T-Coat usually prevents corrosion for up to five years, according to the young entrepreneur.
“Our goal with this product,” Patricia explained,” is to extend the protection of metallic surfaces with a lower amount of coating, with non-toxic organic pigments.” T-Coat comes at a comparable price as other anti-corrosive paints which have lesser properties. Soquimat also offers services such as corrosion monitoring and technical assistance.
Soquimat is scheduled to be officially launched on 1 October on the Chilean market. The company focused its research and marketing on industrial uses, but Patricia hopes T-Coat anti-corrosion paint can be proposed to individual users by the end of 2022.
Currently, Soquimat serves three main industry sectors: construction and infrastructure, naval construction, and mining through direct orders or distributors.
The company operates from Concepción and currently has a team of eight staff.
Soquimat has a joint patent with the University of Concepción, which names Patricia as one of the inventors and the University of Concepción as the applicant. According to Patricia, it is in the latest revision phase and pending at the National Institute of Industrial Property of Chile.
The company will however soon apply for a new patent. Patricia benefitted from the help and support of the WIPO Pilot Training Program on IP Management for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers in Latin America. The new patent is about Soquimat’s new organic additives to inhibit corrosion. “We are expanding the type of waste that we can use to make our product both scalable and commercially attractive,” Patricia explained.
ANID suggested Patricia as a candidate for the training program. After the first phase of the program, Patricia was further selected for a second phase where she was provided with expert mentoring support in the protection and commercialization of research results.
The training really helped in the preparation of the patent writing, Patricia said, adding that she also now has a better understanding of the patenting process at the national and the international level with the Patent Cooperation Treaty. The company plans to submit a patent application in Chile and 3 or 4 other countries, she said.
T-Coat is also a registered trademark with a logo representing a white bull against a red background. “We wanted to represent the strength and persistence behind our development and all the hard work we have invested into this product and our company.”
“We have an ambitious plan for Soquimat in the future,” Patricia said with a bright smile. “We intend to position ourselves as a deep tech company in Chile and the world.” The Company also hopes to sell other types of paints and products and launch into the international market.
“Our greatest motivation,” she said, “is to bring technology closer to people, something that is too costly for many in Chile and Latin America.”