MesoCoat Inc. has been granted a Small Business Innovation Research Grant (SBIR) by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, in order to fund a six-month program to develop its CermaClad™ process as an alternative to galvanizing for hot- or cold-rolled steel strip. Details of the research are scant, but a statement by MesoCoat’s parent company, Abakan Inc., indicated the project would seek to develop CermaClad LT (Low Thickness) as a feasible alternative to galvanizing for infrastructure applications.

Federal departments and agencies issue SBIR grants to small and early-stage projects in order to increase private sector commercialization of and small business participation in federally funded R&D. The programs have three phases: Phase I determines project feasibility; Phase II covers project development through prototyping; and Phase III is commercialization.

Galvanized, i.e., zinc coated, steel has multiple applications, including automotive body and structural steels, as well as parts and infrastructure that are sensitive to corrosion.  Generally, there are two industrial approaches to galvanizing: dipping the materials in a bath of molten metal; or electrocoating using a chemical or electrodeposition process to seal the surface against corrosion.

Robert Miller, CEO of Abakan, said: "Applying zinc coatings on metal parts is a very effective method for preventing corrosion. We believe that the application of our CermaClad technology to zinc coatings we may be able to provide a better and more economical zinc coating solution for some applications.”

EPA’s concern with galvanizing is the high toxicity of zinc, the most common element in the alloys used to coat steel for corrosion resistance, as well as the industrial processes related to galvanizing.  While zinc is recycled at a very high rate, and most of the zinc used to coat steel is recycled material, the processes involved to produce galvanized steel are environmentally hazardous— including pickling with hydrochloric acid to prepare the substrate, and disposing or landfilling of toxic waste by-products.

CermaClad technology uses a high-intensity light source to rapidly fuse protective cladding material to a steel substrate. MesoCoat maintains the process is “faster, better, and cost-competitive with other processes used to clad metal surfaces with corrosion-resistant alloy, wear-resistant alloy, cermet, ceramic, and metal powders.

According to MesoCoat, its process 15 to 100X faster than weld/laser cladding, and covers 75-580 sq.ft./hour with a single system — matching the process speed of the coating lines typically used in steel mills or steel processing operations.

CermaClad LT is one of three variants of the CermaClad process, and coats materials like steel, stainless steel and aluminum.  It applies thin layers  (0.1-1 mm) of zinc to form a physical barrier that works as a sacrificial anode when that barrier is in danger. The primary application for CermaClad LT is to protect steel parts against corrosion, including structural parts (e.g., bridge decks), ballast and cargo tanks (shipbuilding), rebar; and oil-and-gas pipeline components.

Two other CermaClad processes produce heavier coatings for demanding corrosion-resisting applications, including lining pipelines to reduce oil corrosion.

Abakan cited research that global demand for zinc will total 13.2 million metric tons this year, of which 50% would be used to galvanizes steel products, or approximately $18 billion for the global market.

“The CermaClad process would significantly reduce toxic waste streams and unhealthy work environments. Initial estimates suggest that with our CermaClad technology, we can offer a better zinc coating solution at costs that would provide a better overall value proposition than those costs associated with galvanizing," according to Miller.