It’s clear that we are entering a new age of innovation, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the performance chemical sector. As commerce reactivates following a turbulent and unpredictable year across every sector, many brands operating in the adhesive, sealant, and coating markets are looking toward the next wave of new product development.

While logistical challenges and reduced operational headcount have slowed new product development for many businesses, it’s time to put the foot back on the accelerator. Naturally, in an environment that relies so heavily on performance chemicals, it’s imperative that brands are able to evolve and adapt to current market conditions.


Switching Fumed Silica for Clay Alternatives

Taking a view on rheology modifiers for aqueous acrylic sealants, there is a strong and growing case for eliminating fumed silica from formulations. Used as a universal thickening agent and desiccant, the challenge for formulators is that fumed silica is not particularly simple in terms of handling. It can easily become airborne, presenting a health and safety risk.

Because of this, a switch away from fumed silica can contribute to both health and safety and corporate sustainability strategies. The great news for formulators is that alternatives are available. Hectorite clays are set to play a much bigger role over the coming year as formulators make smaller, incremental steps in reformulation.

Aqueous acrylic sealants (i.e., caulks) are traditionally used as joint fillers or grouts. Fumed silica is typically used in this application, but hectorite clays are proving a safer and easier-to-handle alternative with a number of benefits. In addition to high low-shear viscosity, hectorite clay alternatives offer strong shear thinning and low sheer stress at high shear flow, resulting in excellent extrudability.


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Clay-based rheology modifiers* combine high performance and dispersibility with stability. Due to ionic substitution, the force between platelets is reduced, meaning the platelets can be separated with relative ease as water molecules diffuse in between them. As more formulators look to replace fumed silica in water-based formulations, clays provide a powerful alternative.


Volume, Volume, Volume

The sheer scale and immediacy of the COVID-19 pandemic caught businesses by surprise. While many directly consumer-facing brands found relative stability as DIY home projects became a priority and demand outstripped supply, those supplying exclusively to trade have found a much tougher time as work becomes delayed and projects postponed.

The well-documented “panic buying” phase of the pandemic put massive pressure on the performance chemical supply chain, as well as the sealant brands it serves. The challenges highlight just how vital a consistent and agile supply chain can be—from ingredient sourcing through to material handling and storage.

The changing balance between trade and consumer also points toward an evolution in how sealants are marketed. This underlines the importance of having both a B2B and B2C offering. While it’s still common for brands to put sharp focus on one commercial approach (i.e., “for the trade, by the trade” or DIY-friendly ranges), the fluctuating nature of business has shown that a combined approach can be commercially protective under the right market circumstances.


Acceleration to Net Zero

The overall demand for carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction is front of mind for every industry today. Sealant formulators are accounting for this in new product development, particularly in products set to be range mainstays or core products.



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Brands need to be aware of a number of additional considerations. Evaluating CO2 output and the overall “carbon cost” of a product need to account for the product’s global journey, sourcing, processing energy requirements, and logistics. To create a business that’s carbon neutral, formulators are moving much faster toward localized manufacturing that reduces physical transportation requirements, as well as ingredients that are minimally processed.


Organic Thixotropes

Formulators of adhesives and sealants are seeing an ever-expanding selection of options when it comes to rheology modification for new product development. One of the most compelling is organic thixotropes, usually based on diamide or castor waxes. Today’s organic thixotropes, like organoclays, compare favorably to fumed silica. The latest generation of organic thixotropes is designed for efficiency and exemplary rheology.

Crucially for formulators, organic thixotropes provide a way to speed up the manufacturing process with new efficiencies. They’re also particularly versatile, with stable viscosity in a low temperature range between 35-60°C. It is easy to formulate with organic thixotropes; they are also simple to extrude, with no signs of thread formation.


Commercial Potential for Antimicrobial Sealants

As a result of the global pandemic, there is a great deal more discussion on potential growth for antimicrobial sealants. These products use careful ingredient selection and more delicate formulation to build hygiene directly into the product. The building and construction sector is seeing a renaissance in post-COVID safety technology, even down to the materials used during builds.

Contractors are looking for every safety edge available, which creates more sales opportunities for products that can boast antimicrobial claims. Sealants that can neutralize potential pathogens can be a particularly attractive proposition in areas such as schools and healthcare facilities, which rely on more consistently sterile conditions.



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Future Innovations

To condense a highly changeable market down to the essentials, sealant formulators are currently looking toward a real innovation surge and the dovetailing of several important themes. At the core, particularly as the industry recovers from a volatile year, are the heightened needs for sustainability, stability, and volume.

More than ever, ingredient choices in formulations are made strategically, with performance additives having a much more diverse role to play beyond simply modifying the characteristics of sealants. A more strident ingredient selection process provides a fresh opportunity to drive value and underpin commercial performance with a stronger value proposition.


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*BENTONE® DE and EW from Cornelius

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