Painting the way to a greener future

While the industry faces the growing problem of managing paint sludge, an Indian firm has come with an innovative paint sludge recycling technology.

Total of about 48000 tons/year of paint sludge was being generated in India in the year 2008-09. This number is rising sharply at a rate of 10-15% on an annual basis. The primary cause for this steep increase in the paint sludge generation is due to the rapid growth of the automotive industry, which happens to be the highest generator of paint sludge. According to the Hazardous Waste Management Rules, paint sludge is classified as hazardous industrial waste and hence needs to be handled in a safe controlled manner. Coupled with other limitations like high transportation costs, lack of licensed transporters and adverse environmental and health impacts, disposal of paint sludge was evolving into a major concern in the auto industry.

Earlier paint sludge used to be incinerated and impacted the atmosphere through the emission of GHGs. An alternate method is to give it to TSDF Site who dump it in the authorized Hazardous Waste Dumping Site after due treatment which was neither free from pollution not it was economical for industry.  Other than this the method followed was improper / unauthorized dumping or burning of the paint sludge which caused infertility to land or environmental pollution. Sensing an opportunity in this challenge, Maharani Paints, a leading Indian manufacturer of industrial automotive paints and powder coatings, has emerged as the first company in the world to develop an innovative paint sludge recycling technology.  “A lot of sludge is created by the paint consuming industry, and being hazardous in nature, it poses a great waste management problem. The challenge was to come up with a workable and eco-friendly solution,” says Mr. Vishnoi, General Manager (Technical) at Maharani Paints who has a vast experience in the paint industry. The company claims that through their technology, the paint sludge that in general conditions is extremely harmful to the planet can be converted into a high quality industrial primer.

Maharani Paints has obtained patents for this invention in India and 6 other countries – including Canada, Korea, Indonesia, EU and Japan. Since these countries happen to be the biggest automotive manufacturing hubs, Maharani Paints wisely chose to ensure a strong foothold in the paint sludge recycling market. “We are also pursuing global clients – last month our team was visiting Iran, and we are in the process of progressing those negotiating,” informs Mr. B.R. Bhatia, Chairman of the Company.

While talking about the genesis of the paint sludge recycling process, Vishnoi recalls that when he joined Maharani Paints, a sales team had been working with Punjab Tractors to procure an order of paints. Punjab Tractors instead suggested that the company should do something about the paint sludge that was being generated while painting the tractors. So, they brought some sludge samples back with them.  We worked in our R&D Lab for about 2-3 years and developed Recycling solution for M/s. Punjab Tractors Ltd., and installed a pilot plant in their factory for Recycling of their Paint Sludge.  After further working for about 2 years we were able to develop the generalized Paint Sludge Recycling and thereafter we started Recycling the Paint Sludge for M/s. Hero Honda Motors Ltd., by installing our own plant at Faridabad”, recalls Mr. B.R. Bhatia, Chairman of Maharani Paints.  He proudly says ‘Ever since that day in 2005, this cutting edge technology of recycling paint sludge has grown to become a major line of business for the company”.

Over the next few years, various industry leaders in India like M/s. Tata Motors Ltd., Pune, Jamshedpur & Pant Nagar, M/s. Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., Mumbai and M/s. Hero MotoCorp Ltd., commissioned Maharani Paints to process the waste paint sludge generated at their plants into an eco-friendly industrial primer. Since there is not much awareness about the paint sludge recycling technology in India, Maharani Paints has been reaching out to big corporations on a case-to-case basis.
Through its operations from the existing factories in Pune and Faridabad, Maharani Paints boasts of having already recycled a modest quantity of 850 tons of paint sludge. In addition, the company has set a target to recycle 300 tons of paint sludge per month from their Pune Unit and 250 Tons per month from their Faridabad Unit.

When asked about the process model for the paint sludge recycling service, Mr. Bhatia says, “We take full responsibility of the recycling process –starting from collecting the sludge from our clients to delivering the recycled primer”. At present, the entire recycled industrial primer produced from the process is sold back to the clients. But, the senior company executives foresee a much higher quantity of paint sludge that would need to be recycled in the near future, which would surpass the clients consumption need. “The next viable option within the next 2-3 years will be to sell the recycled paint output in the open market,” muses the company chairman.

The Behind the Scenes Story

Surprisingly, recycling industrial paint sludge is not a very cost intensive project. Recycling 1000 tons of sludge per month can cost approximately INR 1.0 to 1.20 crore. More equipment can be added to expand the Recycling capacity at the current plants with minimal additional investment.

So far, Maharani Paints has not accepted any external investments; however, due to a growing interest from potential investors, especially foreign companies wanting a part of the company’s equity, company management is evaluating such options.

“We are open to becoming business partners and establish tie-ups with other companies who want to utilize this technology. Currently, we are exploring a very similar concept in Iran as well” shares Mr. Bhatia. The company maintains its pioneer status in a limited competition market and has set a lofty goal of starting up 20 Recycling plants in India, alongwith its existing 2 plants, within the next 3 years. The company has already identified the spots for the four units – these will be coming up in Ranipet – Tamilnadu, Sitarganj – Uttrakhand, Pithampur – Madhya Pradesh, and Supa Parner – Maharashtra

Continuing R&D Projects

The R&D team at Maharani Paints is currently developing another innovative extract from recycling paint sludge which when blended with bitumen can be used for road construction. This new product will increase the water resistance capacity of the roads and will prevent the roads from damage during the rainy season, hence increasing the life of the road.

During the summer, due to too much heat, the road becomes slightly tacky and the tires leave marks on the roads. This in turn slows down the speed of the vehicles running on these roads, which leads to higher fuel consumption. This new product makes the road harder, and makes the roads resistant to such tyre marks.\

“This product has already been developed, and now we are in the live product-testing phase. We are in the process of getting our product approved by the National Road Congress of India, which is about a 3 year process,” said Mr. Vishnoi.
When asked about what triggered this new invention, Mr. Bhatia states that the primary motivation has been to create an end-use which could leverage the huge potential of extracts from the paint sludge recycling opportunity“. The automotive industry, which is the largest generator of paint sludge, majorly uses CD primer and not the industrial primers that we are creating after the recycling process. To accommodate and balance out this sludge generation and usage of recycled paint products, we were motivated to come up with this product,” says Mr. Bhatia.

The industry response to this new technology remains to be seen, but Maharani Paints has clearly been able to demonstrate thought leadership and a business case through these sustainable and innovative products and technologies.

The author, Pramita Sen is an associate at cKinetics, a sustainability solutions consulting firm.

Image(s) Courtesy:
India Carbon Outlook

Author: Pramita Sen