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Understanding Maturing Application Areas for Hydrophobic Coatings
Hydrophobic coatings, which repel liquids due to a high solid-liquid interfacial energy, have been aggressively developed over the last three years for a variety of applications in infrastructure, aerospace, automotive, textiles, electronics, and packaging.
Lux wanted to understand which application areas of hydrophobic coatings have found commercial traction and which continue to struggle. We created a Lux Innovation Grid containing only companies with a “Positive” Lux Take and “Scale” or “Introduction” stage of development and coded them in the figure below by corresponding application.
Application Domains of Hydrophobic Companies
Electronics is the dominant application for hydrophobic coatings, evident from the host of strong startups populating the field such as P2i, Semblant, Europlasma, HZO, and Aculon. Both the chemistry and processing techniques utilized by these companies vary greatly, from chemical vapor deposition or plasma chamber, to coatings composed of ceramic nanoparticles in a polymer matrix or organometallic compounds. This indicates a strong market demand that has enabled diversity in technology methodology.
Infrastructure has emerged as an increasingly important growth area for hydrophobic coatings. Growing interest in water protection is driving sales growth for these coatings – especially the wake of increasingly fierce weather in North America. Despite this, Lux views the market for hydrophobic coatings on infrastructure as limited, as we don’t think hydrophobic coatings can capture the value of self-cleaning functionality. Photocatalytic coatings are a better fit for self-cleaning in most cases due to better performance and durability, limiting hydrophobic coatings to niche uses where features such as optical clarity are important.
The textile hydrophobic coatings space has only one strong start-up: HeiQ Materials has risen to the top. This scarcity of strong start-ups is largely explained by an unclear value proposition of hydrophobic textiles from the perspective of the end user, a challenge HeiQ overcomes by commercializing multiple functional coatings like antimicrobial, cooling, and low friction. Further exacerbating the issue is a difficulty justifying added price in cost-sensitive consumer textile markets. Key takeaways for readers include the following:
Given the variety of chemistries and processing techniques of hydrophobic coatings in electronic applications, readers seeking to differentiate their electronic product can flexibly choose a provider that fits their business model and goal.
Readers should look to photocatalytic coatings for long term opportunities in the infrastructure coatings space.
As textiles is sparsely populated, readers with existing hydrophobic technology can consider leveraging their current capabilities to access the field. Textiles, however, remain a limited market, and this should be done only if cost-effective to do so.
Overall, hydrophobic coatings for the electronics space has matured most quickly, creating an area where multiple companies are achieving success with diverse processing technologies. Readers looking to utilize these products have a wealth of options to buy into.