Regulations drive demand for low-VOC products.

The greening of America has finally reached the fleet painting/refinishing process. Spurred by protests from environmental groups, including a possible lawsuit by the Sierra Club, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to publish the Automotive Refinish Rule in the Federal Register no later than Aug. 15, 1998.

The rule will establish the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be contained in paint and refinish products. Once the rule is published, makers of automotive refinish coatings will have four months to comply. Products that are already in the distribution chain are not affected.

According to Ron Hilovsky, manager-regulatory affairs for PPG Industries, the new rule refers to products only, and does not address the issue of equipment. "It's likely that in the preamble, however, the EPA will give states and localities some suggestions for making the process itself more environmentally friendly, such as stipulating the use of HVLP spray guns, enclosed gun cleaning, or add-on emissions controls," he says.

In some areas, however, state and local regulations are more stringent than the national rule. Hilovsky points out that when this is the case, the more stringent rules take precedence. John Singleton, director of sales, heavy-duty fleet, for American Finishes, emphasizes how important it is that fleets know what the VOC restrictions are in their particular locales.

The strictest local requirements call for VOC levels of 3.5 and 2.8 lb./gal., which is what the industry is referring to when talking about "low VOC" paint and refinish products. Although they are generally more expensive per gallon than conventional paints, since low-VOC finishes go further, fewer gallons are needed to cover the same area. This overview will focus on low-VOC topcoat products.

DuPont's Imron 6000 for commercial vehicles is a premium low-VOC base/clear polyurethane enamel that meets VOC restrictions of 3.5lb./gal. And for areas with even stricter VOC requirements, DuPont offers Imron 5000, a line of polyurethane enamel single-stage products available in 3.5 and 2.8 lb./gal. VOC.

Productivity tests indicate that the high-strength tints and high-solids formula of Imron 5000 cuts both paint consumption and application time in half when compared to more conventional acrylic polyurethanes.

To help fleets avoid the use of harsh chemicals often necessary to get rid of graffiti, DuPont developed a Teflon-based clearcoat, EZ-3460S. Designed specifically for use with the Imron 6000 and Imron 5000 single-stage topcoats, the clearcoat is 3.5 low-VOC compliant.

PPG Industries' Delta system is a complete topcoat platform that enables users to mix 3.5 and 2.8 low-VOC versions, as well as conventional finishes. The premium line's universal high-strength mixing bases can be used to make single-stage 2K polyurethane paint, as well as two-stage basecoat/ clearcoats. Also included in the Delta package is a graffiti-resistant low-VOC clearcoat.

In addition, PPG has recently launched the OMNI CV line, a value-priced low-VOC system. This system also enables users to mix 3.5- or 2.8-VOC compliant paint, and gives them a choice of 2K single-stage or the basecoat/clearcoat versions.

Sherwin-Williams' premium low-VOC offering is Genesis, a lead- and chromate-free acrylic urethane that is available in both 3.5- and 2.8-VOC versions. According to Sherwin-Williams, this system offers the durability and high gloss of a basecoat/ clearcoat, and the easy application of a single-stage product.

The company's Sunfire line is an industry-standard acrylic urethane product available in both basecoat/ clearcoat and single-stage systems that are 3.5-VOC compliant. Many of Sunfire's solid, metallic, and mica paints are available in lead-free formulas. The line is appropriate for OE, field-repair and refinish applications.

Acrylyd HS ("high solids") is a cost-effective acrylic enamel system from Sherwin-Williams that is available in 3.5-VOC and 5.0-VOC versions.

For fleets that need to meet VOC requirements, Martin-Senour Automotive Finishes offers its PRISM line. The single-stage paint system, which is lead- and chromate-free, is available in 3.5- or 2.8-VOC options.

Designed to meet a variety of fleet needs, the PRISM system can be used with most types of application equipment and can match all vehicle finish, color, and usage conditions.

Specializing in paints for the fleet market, American Finishes offers its Amer-Fleet system for those with VOC needs. The high-solids acrylic urethane paint can be applied as a single-stage topcoat or as a combination basecoat/clearcoat.The single-stage topcoat is available in 3.5- and 2.8-VOC versions.

For low-VOC needs, Akzo Nobel Coatings offers Autocoat LV, a two-component polyurethane topcoat that is 3.5-VOC compliant, and Autocoat LV 2.8, which meets even stricter VOC requirements. Two 3.5 clearcoats are also available: Autoclear LV and Autoclear LV Anti-graffiti. A high-solids enamel system is also an option.