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A comparison of the properties of inorganic and organic coatings is given, with

emphasis on the metallic zinc-based primers.

Author : J.M. Keijman

Presented by : J.M. Keijman

Company : Ameron B.V.

Protective Coatings Group
P.O. Box 6
4190 CA Geldermalsen

Telephone : + 31 (0) 345 587 587

Fax : + 31 (0) 345 587 551


“Achieving Quality in coatings work: The 21st Century Challenge”

10-12 March 1999, The Brighton Centre, Brighton, England


With the development of the polysiloxanes coating systems entirely composed of inorganic coatings have
been introduced into the protective coatings industry.

These inorganic coating systems, consisting of an inorganic zinc silicate primer and a high build high solid
polysiloxane hybrid topcoat are essentially cold applied ceramic coatings. The polymeric structure of the
cured zinc silicates and polysiloxanes have much in common with the 3-dimensional silicon-oxygen structure
of quartz. Since silicon does not form the classical double bonds to oxygen, typically 4 oxygens are attached
to 1 silicon atom forming silicon-oxygen chains and networks.

- O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - OH
- O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - H
- O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - H

With the formation of the polymeric zinc silicate matrix, some of the silicon atoms are replaced by zinc
- O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Zn - O - Si - OR
- O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - OR

The polysiloxanes show comparable structures in such a way that the silicon-oxygen chain on the side
chains is combined with organic groups which can either be an alkyl group, or reactive organic groups, such
as epoxy or amine groups.

- O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - OR

- O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - O - Si - OR

The use of metallic zinc in primer formulations to achieve sacrificial protection of steel structures has been
well-established in the protective coating industry.

The outstanding protective properties of metallic zinc-based primers are based on the sacrificial properties of
these primers in combination with their barrier properties and physical characteristics.

The majority of the zinc based primers are formulated with either the inorganic silicate binders or with epoxy
resin systems.

In the United States the zinc silicates are predominantly used as primers for new buildings, such as for
offshore structures and bridges. The only time zinc epoxy primers are used in service is for touch-up of
coatings applied during fabrication, where severe damage to bare metal has occurred. Conversely, in
Europe zinc epoxies are prevailingly used, particularly in the North Sea offshore industry based in U.K. and

The question is raised whether the preferences in the USA for zinc silicates and in the European offshore
industry for zinc epoxies is ruled by differences in culture or by differences in quality between both primers.
To determine the differences a review of the qualities of these primers, with and without topcoats, has been

2.1 Zinc silicates: The zinc silicates have entered the protective coatings industry in the early Forties in
Australia and the United States. Although zinc silicate coatings were already used in Europe as anti-
corrosive primers and tanklining during the Sixties, they were only introduced on a large scale in Europe with
the development of the European oil industry in the late Sixties.

Zinc silicates are formulated above the Critical Pigment Volume Concentration, which makes high demands
upon the small amount of inorganic binder that is required. On curing, polymerisation of the silicate binder
takes place concurrently with a chemical reaction between the silicate binder, the metallic zinc particles and
the iron of the substrate. The electrical conductive polysilicate matrix, created around the metallic zinc
particles, results in a hard continuous abrasion-resistant coating with controlled electrical conductivity. This
polysilicate matrix is very inert and, with the exception of strong acids and alkalies, does not degrade in most
industrial and marine environments.

Well-designed zinc silicates have excellent adhesion to the basic steel surface, high heat-resistance,
excellent hardness, abrasion-resistance, inertness to crude and refined oils, greases and solvents. They
have excellent resistance to radiation, including nuclear radiation and the inert nature provides excellent
weather resistance with no weather-related failure, such as chalking, cracking or other detoriation effects.

Zinc silicates are normally recommended for application at 65 to 75 microns dry film thickness; well-
formulated zinc silicates are designed in such a way that they can be applied at dry film thicknesses of at
least 150 microns without mud-cracking or sagging on vertical surfaces.

Zinc silicate coatings have a rather wide tolerance to the metallic zinc powder loading, without affecting their
sacrificial properties to protect steel. However, increased zinc loadings will generally provide increased

The estimated service life expectation of 15 years for zinc silicates in maritime environments before first
maintenance (rust grade as listed in NACE Corrosion 96, paper 477) is shown in comparison to 6 years for
organic zinc rich, both applied at 75 microns dry film thickness.

At the time zinc silicates were introduced into the European industry, they were considered as speciality
products. With their growing use in the industry, the zinc silicates changed from specialities to commodity
products. Presently, they are widely available from a large number of coating manufacturers, supported by
raw material suppliers.
By variations in formulation, technology and know-how, not all zinc silicate coatings available on the market
are comparable in either application characteristics or performance.

From NASA field testing of solvent based zinc silicates under marine exposure conditions, it was found that
out of 16 commercial zinc silicates, 9 products applied at 75 microns dft. survived the 10 years testing period
without any rust.

2.2 Zinc-rich epoxies: In Europe, development and use of zinc-rich epoxies proceeded more rapidly than for
inorganic zinc silicates.
Zinc epoxy primers are well-established in the protective coatings industry and presently make up the
majority of the zinc-rich paints in the European offshore industry. Like zinc silicates, zinc-rich epoxies do
provide cathodic protection. Since the epoxy resin is a di-electric binder, zinc levels near to the Critical
Pigment Volume Concentration (CPVC) are required to provide electric conductivity within the coating film to
protect the steel galvanically. This corresponds with a metallic zinc level of approximately 90 percent by
weight. At lower Pigment Volume Concentrations, the electrical conductivity and the cathodic protective
properties decrease, together with the porosity of the applied film.

Like zinc silicates, zinc epoxies formulated with high levels of metallic zinc will provide films with slight too
moderate porosity. Specially formulated intermediate, tie- and/or topcoats are required to overcome
application blistering over such zinc based primers. By lowering the zinc pigment content in the formulation,
application blistering can be solved, sacrifying the primer’s galvanic protective properties.

As has been stated with the zinc silicates, there are also differences in the quality of zinc epoxies. The
NASA field testing of organic zinc-rich coatings applied at 75 microns dft., concluded that out of 29
commercial zinc-rich coatings, only 2 products survived 2 years testing without any rust under marine
exposure conditions. None of them, however, survived 10 years with no rusting.


To achieve optimum performance of both the zinc silicate and zinc epoxy coating based system, abrasive
blast cleaning to SA 2.5 is required. With the ethyl silicate based inorganic primers, which are the primarily
used zinc silicates in the coatings industry for the protection of steel structures, optimum performance is
achieved in SA 2.5 blast cleaned steel.

Both zinc silicates and zinc epoxies are normally recommended at dry film thicknesses of 65 to 75 microns.
To concur with the practical conditions, well-designed zinc silicates are formulated to be applied at twice this
dry film thickness without mud-cracking or sagging on vertical surfaces. This also applies to zinc epoxy
primers, so that application at twice the recommended dry film thickness can be made without running into
application problems or film defects.

3.1 Surface tolerance: According to various studies, the inorganic zinc silicates are more forgiving than zinc
epoxies of water soluble chloride salts. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports the
development of blistering in water immersion for a zinc rich epoxy system at a water soluble chloride salt
level of 15 mg/m2 . No failure occurred with a zinc silicate topcoat system at the highest salt level tested of
50 mg/m2..

The ISO 15235-1 draft dated September 10, 1998 has listed 3 to 7 mg/m2 water-soluble salts as the risk of
failure value for zinc epoxy based systems and 50 mg/m2 for zinc silicate based systems for fresh water
immersion service conditions.
It has also found that zinc silicates have better flash rust tolerance than zinc epoxies.

From these data, it is concluded that zinc ethyl silicate based systems are more tolerant to water-soluble salt
concentration and flash rust than zinc epoxy based coating systems.

On the other hand, zinc epoxy primers have better tolerance with existing coatings and are therefore
preferred for maintenance and repair.
3.2 Topcoating of zinc based primers. Zinc epoxies can generally be topcoated faster than zinc silicates. The
curing of the epoxy coating is not affected by the application of topcoats. The curing of the zinc epoxy is
indeed dependent on the prevailing temperatures, but continues to cure underneath the applied topcoats
without delay.
Curing of most epoxy resin based zinc primers is retarded at temperatures below 10oC and is stagnant at
temperatures of between 0oC and 5oC.

The curing of zinc silicates is dependant upon the availability of humidity. They will continue to cure at
temperatures as low as 0oC, but will severely be retarded in curing when topcoated. It is therefore important
for zinc silicates that they have obtained a minimum level of curing prior to topcoating. This can generally be
achieved after 24 hours of application and be controlled by the solvent (M.E.K.) rubtest.

The difference in topcoat application blistering between zinc silicates and zinc epoxies is often brought up in
discussions on the use and selection criteria of the zinc based primers.
It might be clear that following discussions on the formulation in relation to performance characteristics, high
quality zinc epoxy primers also result in slight too moderate porous films. Consequently, no differentiation
can be made with the application of topcoats on high performance zinc based primers.


Exposure of zinc-based primers without topcoats to saltspray (ASTM-B 117) shows a remarkable difference
in durability between zinc epoxy and zinc silicate primers.

Applied at a dry film thickness of 75 microns on SA 2.5 abrasive blast-cleaned steel, both water-borne and
solvent-based zinc silicates show excellent performance with excellent scribe protection for periods of
10.000 hours.
Zinc epoxies, applied at the same dry film thickness on SA 2.5 abrasive blast-cleaned steel show coating
failure at saltspray exposure periods of 1000 hours. Depending on their composition, blistering and face
corrosion began to occur.

R. Ramsey of the Florida DOT compared the relative performance of zinc rich formulations with different
organic binders. The increasing order of performance was phenoxy chlorinated rubber and epoxy.
He also reported the results on the performance of un-topcoated zinc rich coatings on a Florida bridge in
maritime exposure:

- excellent 18 years performance of the zinc silicate coating

- poor 18 months performance of a zinc rich phenoxy primer
- general superiority of inorganic zinc primers compared to organic zinc primers

It was concluded by him, that many of the organic zinc rich products tested, appear to protect primarily as a
barrier rather than cathodically.

The excellent performance of un-topcoated zinc silicates reported above, is in line with the experience we
have achieved with large projects, where a single coat of 75 microns of a zinc silicate has been used:

Portal Crane, Danish shipyard.

80 Meter high portal crane with a span of 140 metres has been protected with one single coat of a zinc
silicate coating at 75 microns for a period of 18 years. Although after this period the coating was in
excellent condition, a topcoat was applied for cosmetic reasons.

Chemical plant, Botlek, The Netherlands.

Excellent corrosion protection has been obtained with a single coat of a zinc silicate coating applied at
75 microns dry film thickness in the heavy chemical industrial Botlek-area near Rotterdam.
For cosmetic reasons, topcoats have been applied on the various parts of the plant, 7 to 10 years after
the plant was put in operation.

Decks 98000 T crude oil carrier (La Rabida).

Single coat of zinc silicate applied at 75 microns on decks provided excellent protection for a period of
13 years.

Accelerated testing of inorganic zinc silicate topcoat systems showed a considerable better scribe
performance in saltspray than zinc epoxy based coating systems. The zinc silicates outperformed the zinc
epoxies in comparable coating systems at a factor 2 in scribe performance on 6000 hrs. saltspray testing.
In a joint testing program with COT testing laboratory in Haarlem, The Netherlands, cross-cut coupons were
made after 6.000 hours saltspray testing of panels coated with inorganic zinc silicate topcoated systems in
comparison with zinc epoxy topcoated systems. Underrust on the zinc epoxy based systems was noticed,
while the zinc silicate based system was completely unaffected.

L. Kristiansen also reports in his paper “Corrosion Protection Offshore” underrust with zinc epoxy based
coating systems after 6.000 hrs saltspray testing, while the zinc silicate based system is free of corrosion.
He also reports that operators at Ekofisk have noticed the same experience during repair work, where the
intact coating has been removed.

A comparative test program was made with the exposure of test panels of 1 m2 coated with three and four
coat systems, consisting of a zinc silicate prime coat and respectively two and three epoxy coatings.
After exposure for 10 years in an industrial marine atmosphere in the Botlek/Rozenburg area in the
Netherlands, following results have been reported (see also pictures 1 and 2):

Coating system dry film thickness Surface corrosion Scribe corrosion

zinc silicate/epoxy intermediate/epoxy topcoat 300 my none none

zinc epoxy/epoxy intermediate/epoxy topcoat 300 my none 4 cm
zinc epoxy/2 epoxy intermediates/epoxy topcoat 375 my none 2,5 cm

Picture 1 Picture 2

3 coat zinc silicate epoxy system 3 coat zinc epoxy/ 4 coat zinc epoxy/
epoxy system epoxy system

The excellent performance characteristics of zinc silicates are shown by the use of a zinc silicate topcoat
system applied on the decks and the complete extensive hull of crude oil carrier (VLCC). As the owner
wanted to keep the complete ship free of any corrosion, any damage down to the steel showing corrosion
has therefore been re-blasted and recoated with the original coating system including the zinc silicate primer
during every dry docking.

The quantities and percentages of zinc silicate used at each dry docking for repair in relation to the original
quantity used at new building are shown below to maintain the ”Universe Korea” free of corrosion.

Applications Months in service Quantity of zinc silicate Zinc silicate percentage

new building 0 47.313 L 100 %

dry docking 15 250 L 0.53%
dry docking 32 100 L 0.21%
dry docking 58 145 L 0.31%
dry docking 76 70 L 0.15%
dry docking 93 8 L 0.02%

Dry docking total 93 573 L 1.22%

It has to be remarked, that the zinc silicate coating used during dry dockings was only required to repair the
areas damaged by mooring fenders. The remainder of the hull and decks were free of any corrosion during
the survey period.

The estimated service life expectations, listed in NACE corrosion 96 paper 477, indicate a considerable
difference in life between the un-topcoated zinc epoxy and zinc silicate primers. Minimal difference in life,
however, is noted when these primers are used with topcoats. Based on the results of laboratory testing and
experience in practice, it must be concluded that the zinc silicate primer based systems outperform the zinc
epoxy based systems by large. The zinc silicate based coating systems continue to protect the steel without
the development of corrosive products on the steel surface after severe testing and longer service in
practice. The zinc epoxy based systems begin to detoriate and corrode at the basic metal surface under the
same exposure conditions.

It is also shown, that the scribe performance of zinc silicate based systems is better than of zinc epoxy
based systems. This is of prime importance for the protection of steel structures in relation to the possibilities
of mechanically damaged surfaces.


6.1 Rotterdam Port Authority: A review of coating systems used in the United States for new construction
and maintenance of bridges, as specified by the DOT.’s of Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania was made in
1994 by the Rotterdam Port Authority.
This review included a survey of the quality of the coating systems applied on bridges and meetings with the
respective DOT’s.

It was concluded that zinc silicate based coating systems had been extensively used since 1970 on heavy
steel constructions with excellent results. Without exception, zinc silicate based coating systems are used
during new construction of bridges.
It was concluded that:

in addition to the excellent corrosion protection, zinc silicates function as a permanent primer, which
does not need to be removed or abrasive blast-cleaned during maintenance.
in this context, zinc silicates offer specific environmental benefits.
zinc silicates offer better corrosion protection than organic zinc primers.
application of zinc silicate based coating systems during new construction are the best approach for a
good and cost-effective maintenance system during the life cycle of the steel structure.

6.2 European customers: In discussions with European customers it was generally expressed that:

zinc epoxy based coating systems are preferred, because the zinc epoxy primers are more application-
friendly than zinc silicates.
the use of zinc epoxy primers is pushed by European paint-manufacturers and specific raw material
zinc silicate based coating systems outperform zinc epoxy coating systems.


The inorganic silicate based coatings have not induced allergies such as can occur with epoxy binder based
coating systems.

Also environmentally the inorganic binder systems are less harmful than the presently more commonly used
epoxy resin binders, which are classified with the R 51/53 phrases.
This aspect, in combination with the extended durability of zinc silicate based primers, reduce the damage to
the environment.

With the development of the polysiloxanes, inorganic coating systems have been introduced, which entirely
consist of inorganic polymeric coating materials.

The polymerisation of monomeric silicon-oxygen building blocks to polysiloxanes in combination with organic
substituents on the side chains have resulted in the formulation of aliphatic polysiloxane hybrid coatings.

The chemistry and differentiation to the traditional carbon based binders and coatings has been outlined in
earlier papers and publications.
Because of their inorganic silicium-oxygen backbone, they have none of the failure characteristics of organic
coatings. They are inert and do not continue to oxidize, and therefore do not have a tendency to check,
crack or chalk on weathering or lose thickness. They are not affected by rain, dew, condensation, snow or
cold. The coating is hard, glossy, tightly adherent and has, in combination with primers, an outstanding
resistance against corrosion at considerably lower total film thicknesses and coats than traditional coating

The inherent low viscosity of the aliphatic polysiloxane hybrid binder allows the formulation of high built
coatings at volume solids of 90 percent and a VOC of 120 g/l (EPA-method 24).

The coating can be applied by standard airless spray equipment at dry film thickness of 75 up to 200 micron
per coat and is formulated in a wide range of different colors, meeting most color requirements in the

The epoxy polysiloxane hybrid coating is normally used in two coat systems with zinc epoxy or zinc silicate
based primers, which both meet the most severe performance requirements of the industry. These include
the Norsok M-CR-501 as well as the Shell Engineering Standard ES/011.
The qualitative comparison of gloss and color retention by accelerated testing and South Florida marine
exposure showed that the epoxy siloxane hybrid coating is outperforming the best polyurethane based
coating system.

The improved weathering resistance in combination with the excellent durability in corrosion testing, high
solids, ease of application at high film builds have resulted in the use of two coat concepts, where
traditionally three or more coats of organic topcoat based systems were required. This concept has offered
considerable cost savings, which have been realised in practice.

With the introduction of epoxy polysiloxane coatings with high solids, improvement in color and gloss
retention and corrosion resistance mean that polyurethane topcoats are now redundant in anti-corrosive
systems with consequently economic and health and safety benefits, resulting from fewer coats and the
elimination of isocyanide toxicity.


Metallic zinc based coatings must not be characterised as a group, having equivalent service life.
There is a difference:

well-formulated zinc silicate coatings outperform zinc epoxy coatings. They provide an excellent base for
coating systems requiring long service life in a variety of industries, either as a single coat by multi-coat
systems in combination with organic topcoats or in two coat systems with inorganic polysiloxane
Zinc silicate coatings have more tolerance to residual water soluble salt contamination than zinc epoxy
Zinc silicates as a prime coat extend the service life of topcoat systems. They protect the original surface
preparation quality of the steel and can, as such, be considered as a permanent primer.

A major difference has also been obtained by the introduction of the inorganic polysiloxane hybrid based
topcoating in the protective coatings industry.
The epoxy siloxane hybrid coatings are weatherable coatings with excellent corrosion resistance,
extended gloss and color retention.
With these high solids epoxy siloxane coatings, polyurethane topcoats can be eliminated in anti-
corrosive coating systems with fewer coats and without the concerns related to the toxicity of isocyanate
curing systems.
By the combination of the zinc silicate primers and the epoxy polysiloxane hybrid coatings entire
inorganic coating systems have been introduced into the protective coatings industry. As alternatives to
the traditional organic coating systems they provide, in two-coat zinc primer based systems, the same or
better performance than with three or more coat organic coating systems.


1. C.G. Munger, ”Corrossion Preventions by Protective Coatings”, NACE 1984

2. W.J. Patton, NASA Techn. Note ”Performance of zinc rich coatings, applied to carbon steel”, TND
3. C.G. Munger, ”Inorganic Coating Systems”, M.P. 1991, p. 34-38.
4. C.H. Hare, ”Zinc rich primers - design principles”, JPCL Volume 15, no.7 (July 1998), p. 17-38.
5. R.A. Ramsey, ”Zinc coatings in the Florida Experience”, National Zinc Rich Coatings Conferences,
Chicago,IL., December 1974.
6. J. Peart, E. Phifer, ”Organic versus inorganic zinc - rich in the field”. JPCL Volume 9, no. 2
(Febr.1992), p. 46-53.
7. G.H. Brevoort, a.o. ”Updated protective coating costs, products and service life”. NACE Corrosion 96,
paper 477.
8. L. Kristiansen, ”Corrosion protection offshore”, paper presented at ”Overflate Dagene 95", Norway.
9. ISO 15235-1 Working draft 10.09.1998.
10. J.M. Keijman, ”High solid coatings experience in Europe and USA”. PCE 97 Conference, paper 40.
11. J.M. Keijman, ”The evolution of siloxane epoxy coatings in the protective coatings industry”. Euromat
Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, July 1998.
12. Report ”Conservering Bruggen” Rotterdam Port Authority, Study, May 1994.