Pigments and Dyes – The Chemistries Are Not the Same

Written by David Wawer, Executive Director, CPMA

A recent surge in announcements by a variety of researchers show the discovery of  alternative, non-traditional methods to producing pigments. Some of the claims are that these new pigments are “greener” than their traditional counterparts. These claims are both exciting and intriguing.

A recent article in GreenBiz described the Biomimicry Institute’s Ray of Hope Prize to Swiss company, Impossible Materials, for research on natural substitutes for Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)[1]. The article stated “A Switzerland-based company Impossible Materials looked to the brilliantly white Cyphochilus Beetle for the inspiration for an alternative. They found that its body has structures that diffuse light waves, making it completely white. The company’s design team created a similar structure out of cellulose waste that produces a white pigment and, according to Yarnall-Schane, creates a brighter white than titanium dioxide and will also be cheaper at scale.”

The article neglects, however, to accurately differentiate between a dye and pigment. In using the two words interchangeably, the authors fail to recognize that pigments and dyes chemistries are not the same. TiO2 is commonly known by industry experts as “white pigment” and is not a dye. The company research project references TiO2 as “white dye”.  Pigments industry experts define dyes as “soluble” chemistry, and pigments as “insoluble” chemistry.

The Color Pigments Manufacturers Association (CPMA) is the acknowledged resource for regulatory, technical, and scientific information about the color pigments value chain and color pigments chemistry. CPMA representatives provide information to industry trade publications, state and national governments officials, downstream customer industries, and others. Public inquiries about color pigments science and technology have included inquiries from academic institutions conducting research on innovation for pigments products.

CPMA is encouraged to read about innovation by companies such as Impossible Materials to develop new pigments chemistry. Unfortunately, the road from innovation to commercialization contains significant obstacles, one of which is the regulatory approval process. The newest commercially available color pigment – YInMn Blue – took five years and thousands of dollars to obtain government regulatory approvals. On a global scale, the approval process must be navigated on a country-by-country basis. In the USA, new chemicals approval processes were made more difficult, if not impossible, after the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was enacted into law in 2016.

CPMA’s expertise on the color pigments industry value chain (which includes TiO2 as a raw material)  can be an asset for academic researchers and organizations with discoveries and inventions for which commercially viable applications are being pondered. While announcements and research projects supported by entities such as the Biomimicry Institute are unique, novel, and exciting, replacements for TiO2 and other pigments in commerce will not enjoy immediate commercial success. Significant regulatory approval and commercial viability hurdles must be overcome.

[1] Klein, J. (2022). How three companies are solving problems using biomimicry | Greenbiz. Retrieved 31 May 2022, from https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-three-companies-are-solving-problems-using-biomimicry?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=newsletter-template&utm_content=05-25-2022%20Climate%20Tech%20Weekly&mkt_tok=MjExLU5KWS0xNjUAAAGEmhCfr632S6xBriTz2baESnyVk6H493ynMqM1N-jHenPKJs4Ofke3p_hUvdmbArg2xtQ_w7O6p6PG7kuY1qpMbUPGOmFGUK0LCacKLMVN0mOI6A

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