Increased Use of Repurposed Materials is Inevitable – And That’s a Good Thing

It doesn’t matter where you get your information, the news is full of stories that describe shortages of just about everything.

While (thankfully) we no longer face pandemic-driven toilet paper shortages and our improved understanding of virus transmission has created a veritable glut of hand sanitizer, material shortages are real and likely to be with us for a long time. In some case, perhaps for the foreseeable future.

Beneath the Surface

You have probably seen the headlines:

  • Chip shortages halting new vehicle production and driving up used vehicle prices
  • House inventory shortages sending prices through the roof as people leave cramped city apartments for larger suburban digs in a world of remote work
  • Labor shortages in the hospitality and retail industries
  • Lumber shortages causing construction costs to rise dramatically

And so on.

What we often don’t see are the shortages of minerals and materials that contribute to the shortages of products we do see.

I recently visited my friendly neighborhood paint dealer to buy several gallons of deck stain.  It’s a DIY project this year because my painting contractor is booked for the next 6 months. 

A personal example of demand outstripping supply.  Great for him, but bad for me.

Adding insult to injury, the paint store was sold out of solid deck stain base.  I would have to wait a week.

 Really?  How can a paint store run out of such a commonly used product? 

In this case, both supply and demand are to blame. 

Local demand for outdoor DIY projects is always high in Michigan when the weather turns nice.  It’s even higher this year as almost everyone seems to be sprucing up the home in which they now spend much more of their daily life (a nationwide phenomenon).

Supply is constrained for several reasons:

  • Reduced factory hours in 2020 due to the pandemic
  • Truck driver shortages
  • Reduced rail capacity
  • Sea container shortages that are constraining imports

However, the problem that will have the most lasting impact is a shortage of raw material.

Mineral Constraints

The IntoCeramics team has extensive experience with the minerals used in paints and coatings. This comes from having worked directly in these industries as well as formulating titania-based ceramic products for others. 

Titania is one of the most widely used opacifiers found in paints, coatings, and plastics, and is used across a wide range of industries. Most of the titanium dioxide (TiO2) ore and finished titania product consumed in the U.S. is mined or produced overseas.

Global operators cut back production in 2020 in the face of market uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The pandemic also took many vessels and sea containers off the market, which is now creating shortages – particularly from Asia and Australasia. 

To make matters worse, labor shortages and pandemic-related protocols are causing weeks-long delays in vessel unloading at U.S. ports Coupled with a strong rebound in world demand, these issues have caused prices to spike dramatically – and those increases are not over, by a long shot.

At a personal level, I must wait on my stain, and it will cost me a whole lot more than I would have paid a few years ago. At a macro level, expect to see paint and coatings R&D chemists putting renewed emphasis on finding alternative materials.

Invisible Shortages Are More Common Than You Think

The titanium dioxide example shows how mineral shortages can have an immediate and significant impact on our daily lives. These are not the “critical minerals” we hear so much about that are used in batteries or smartphones. These are everyday minerals used to produce paints, coatings, appliances, and ordinary construction materials.

Primary production of these materials isn’t easy to (re)grow.  So, while shortages persist, alternatives – including repurposed materials – will be needed.

If a raw materials shortage is constraining your production, contact IntoCeramics. 

We can help you find an alternative, using repurposed materials.

Happy painting!

Photo by Yoann Siloine on Unsplash