Brisbane Motor Bodies Pty Ltd

Use of Water Based Paint To Reduce Solvent Emissions: Brisbane Motor Bodies


Courtesy of Brisbane Motor Bodies Pty Ltd


For the last twelve months Richard Powell has been using water based 'base coat' paints in his smash repair business at Woolloongabba. These paints use water, instead of solvent, as the carrier for the basic paint constituents, and do not release any harmful vapours to the atmosphere.

Richard has been in the smash repair business for more than twenty five years and established Brisbane Motor Bodies Pty Ltd (BMB) at Woolloongabba about eleven years ago. BMB is a medium sized business operating with four painters and four panel beaters. The business is Quality Assured to AS3902 standards.

Prompted by the direction the Environmental Protection legislation is heading, Richard accepted an offer from a reputable paint supplier to test the suitability of this less toxic paint in the sub-tropical Brisbane environment. If successful, it would give BMB a competitive edge within Brisbane’s smash repair industry, and establish BMB as a Best Environmental Practice model that will hopefully be adopted by the industry in Brisbane.


The use of water based paints would have the following beneficial outcome:

  • Reduction in the use of highly toxic two-pack paints and their attendant isocyanate emissions;
  • Substantial reduction (about 50%) in the use of solvents and their emissions;
  • Greatly improved occupational health and safety in the workplace; and
  • Enhanced company image as an environmentally responsible operator.

Process Description

Overall, the basic panel beating and painting activities remained unchanged, although the supplier insisted on the completion of an on-site training course before painters were allowed to use the product. The objective was to acquaint the painters with the correct application technique required for water based paints, which is different from that required for conventional '2-pack' paints.

The supplier recommended the installation of a special air blower system in conventional spray booths to speed up the drying process. The jets in the blower can be directed to either the whole vehicle or selected parts.

Two pack clear is still retained for the finishing coat because the water based paints are only suitable for basecoating at present. The supplier has an ongoing research program to develop water-based clear for a finishing coat.

Cost Savings

The supplier claimed that materials savings (resulting from reduced overspray) of up to 30% have been achieved even without the use of high volume low pressure (HVLP) spray guns. This makes the price of the water-based product competitive, even though it carries a slight premium over the price of its solvent based substitutes.

Like any market driven product, lower prices resulting from higher sales and import volumes, together with the higher costs for the containment, treatment and disposal of the more toxic substitutes, will gradually lead to higher profit margins for the user.

There is also no need to invest in expensive stirred mixing scheme equipment, as the paint constituents do not settle in the can as in conventional solvent based paints.

The possibility of a substantial reduction in the cost of future environmental licences also exists. Those businesses adopting Best Environmental Practice will be rewarded with lower licence fees when the Brisbane City Council implements its Incentive Licensing scheme.

Another significant cost saving is the substantial reduction (about 50%) in the amount of solvents used. The benefits in terms of improved Occupational Health and Safety can not be quantified but are obvious.

Other Improvements

BMB recently acquired a new and more accurate spot welding unit and installed a water filtration system. Richard is also planning to upgrade BMB’s dust extraction equipment.

The overall strategy is to ensure the long term survival and growth of the business. Richard believes that one way to achieve that goal is to attain Environmental Best Practice standards.

The paint supplier is undertaking ongoing research to improve their product.

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