Ceramic Coatings via NASA
(Potassium Silicates)

Coatings Preserve Metal, Stone, Tile, and Concrete

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NASA Technology As numerous achievements have taken place in space over the last 50-plus years, a number of innovations have simultaneously taken place on the ground.

For example, Jack Triolo, a senior engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, worked with John B. Schutt, a chemist extraordinaire and coatings specialist at Goddard from the 1960s through the 1990s. Schutt spent considerable time experimenting with formulas to create super-durable coatings for spacecraft.“My job was to fly different coatings in space,” says Triolo, “and while some of John’s coatings didn’t work out so well, some of them were really great.”In particular, one of Schutt’s more impressive mixtures was a specific inorganic formula made from potassium silicate . Not only could the concoction keep corrosion from forming on the steel or metal surfaces it was applied to, but it dried quickly to a hard, durable finish. With just one coat, the technology delivered corrosion resistance and could withstand extremely high temperatures.“Many chemists were doing something similar at the time, but they approached the combination in different ways,” says Triolo. The magic in Schutt’s formula came from having just the right amount of potassium silicate  so that it would chemically combine with metal.  Though the coating was never used in space, it proved useful here on Earth at Kennedy Space Center, where it protected the launch facilities from degradation due to corrosion from the salty, tropical environment and heat from the fiery rocket launches. But that is not the only place the coating found a home.Technology Transfer NASA patented Schutt’s formula and then granted a license to a private company, which supplied the technology for use on bridges, pipelines, power stations, and more .Because the potassium silicate  formula provides long-lasting protection with a single application, it has enabled significant material and labor cost savings wherever it is used. In 1995, the innovation was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame.Meanwhile, Schutt retired from NASA in the 1990s and later began employing his NASA expertise to create new hybrids of the inorganic formula. “We wanted to protect metal from corrosion, and Schutt developed formulas that worked in the real world. They were optimized so they were easy to use and affordable.

Sadly, Schutt passed away in 2011; his formulations, however, continue to bring benefits to businesses and individuals around the globe.

Particularly valuable for HVAC and refrigeration equipment, not only because it repels dust and dirt and reduces maintenance costs by approximately 13 percent, but because laboratory tests have shown that it completely inhibits the growth of mold, increases the energy efficiency up to 12 percent, and protects against corrosion even in the harshest of environments.“It stays clean, and the metal can transfer heat without interference from dirt,” .

Another area where potassium silicates is beneficial is on floors made of grout, concrete, or tile. The coating will last for years and treated surfaces will not support germs, are resistant to stains, and can be cleaned more easily. Due to benefits such as these, a popular use of potassium silicates has been in public rest stations and in hospital restroom facilities cut cleaning costs by 30 percent.An added benefit of potassium silicates is its resistance to paints and inks. “We don’t have a surface that graffiti can bite into. The coating, in essence, is just sitting on the surface. You can wipe graffiti off using a green solvent remover or a pressure washer,”  also finds many uses on aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, and stainless-steel alloys to inhibit corrosion. For example, it has been applied on handrails and light poles in public parks in New York as well as in the Cayman Islands, where salty conditions wear away metal.The coating also provides slip resistance, as has been shown in testing, and has been widely used on the floors of kitchens and medical facilities for such purposes.

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