Manufacturing, Small Business & Startups, and Sustainability

Partners launch sustainable venture

Innovakote remanufactures surplus powder coating into virgin product for OEMs, diverting waste from landfills.

October 4, 2019
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The colorful panels are a preliminary test Innovakote does of the powder coating that it prepares to recycle. Courtesy Innovakote

Although powder coating overspray currently is considered by U.S. regulators to be a safe substance to dispose of, Dwayne Behrens and Brian Spicer calculated 320 million pounds of it are sent to landfills each year, a volume they believe is unacceptable.

Behrens and Spicer have been in the powder coating industry together for several years. Behrens is owner and president of Surplus Coatings, where Spicer is COO, and the duo also co-own MIT Powder Coatings Online Store. Both businesses are based at 2825 17 Mile Road in Kent City.

About two years ago, they began brainstorming Innovakote as they looked for more ways to recycle and reuse waste powder coating, whether from overspray, expiration or off-spec.

They tout Innovakote — launching this month at their existing Kent City facility, with seven employees — as the first company of its kind to manufacture powder coating from 95% recycled content.

“The biggest problem that we’re trying to fix, and this is industrywide, is the sheer volume of waste powder coating that is generated on a daily basis. It’s significant, and it’s hard to even put it into someone’s mind how big it is. … When somebody applies our product, if they purchase 10 pounds, 6 pounds are going stick to the part, and 4 pounds fall to the ground and get sent to us or sent to a landfill,” Spicer said.

He and Behrens estimate 45,000 semi-truckloads of powder coating will be disposed of worldwide in 2020.

“That’s a lot of waste. I know it’s a fine dust, but just to have it go sit in our ground at the landfill doesn’t seem like the right answer. We really hope that with Innovakote, (we) put a dent in the sheer volume of waste being sent to the landfill,” Spicer said.

Powder coating is a dry dust dispensed with a spray gun that adds an electrostatic charge to the particles, which are then attracted to a grounded metal part. After being sprayed, the part is cured under heat to set the coating.

The powder coating process takes about 10 minutes and is more efficient and environmentally friendly than using wet coatings, which contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Through Surplus Coatings, Behrens and Spicer have been collecting waste powder coating from original equipment manufacturers, automotive companies, furniture companies and powder manufacturers, cleaning it and putting it into new products that would “generally find a recycling home overseas somewhere,” Spicer said.

Now, with Innovakote operating out of the same building, Surplus can keep doing that work while acting as a supplier of raw materials to Innovakote. 

The pair said the new technologies and methods they will use within Innovakote will double the volume of powder coating recycling they are able to do from 5 million pounds per year with Surplus Coatings to 10 million pounds per year with Innovakote.

Innovakote takes the raw materials — 95% recycled and 5% new — and puts them into an extruder, which uses heat and pressure to combine the ingredients. The product then is placed onto a cooling belt to be flattened and chilled, then after cooling, it is chipped and ground into powder.

“No product is better used than when it can be recycled and turned back into what it was originally intended for,” Spicer said.

Innovakote will customize the recycled virgin powder for clients according to color and/or technical properties.

Behrens said Innovakote’s remanufactured powder can be applied to any metal component, which means there is a large potential customer base. But the partners are hoping their business model resonates where it can do the most good.

“The target customer groups that we’re looking for are larger OEMs that are looking to create a circular economy where we take their waste, reprocess it, remanufacture it and bring it back to them for their use,” Spicer said.

Behrens and Spicer said they expect to have to do some education in the industry about the need for recycling this material, because currently, with waste powder coating being deemed safe to dump into landfills, there is no obvious incentive for recycling it.

“In other parts of the world — Europe — you need a special permit to dispose of powder coating,” Behrens said, noting there are trace elements in typical powder coating formulas that are not necessarily considered “good for the environment,” but they’re not present in high enough concentrations to be harmful, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidance.

But manufacturers are on edge these days. Behrens said this is in large part because of the PFAS contamination issues that arose in Rockford, as well as Plainfield and Algoma townships during the past few years, stemming from Wolverine Worldwide’s waste dumping practices.

“A lot of the customers that we deal with, whether of Surplus Coatings or Innovakote, they are concerned about cradle-to-grave issues in reference to landfilling a product,” he said.

“We’re ahead of where the need is in reference to recycling this problem.”

Behrens and Spicer said they plan to start marketing locally, then grow from there.

“With Innovakote and our new technology, we have the answer on how to recycle the world’s waste powder coating,” Behrens said. “It’s definitely an exciting venture for us.”

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