Top 5 Most Extreme Environments for Protective Coatings

city centre steel roof structures
Steel roof structures typically found in any British city in 2015.

Protective Coatings do an important job for our nations infrastructure and we rely on them to prolong the lifespan of warehouses, retail parks and public buildings right across the country

Applying a protective coating to steel and concrete on buildings at industrial estates across the UK and Ireland, is necessary to maintain and prolong the lifespan of a structure exposed to the elements. It’s a technically demanding job and needs to be done professionally if the coating is to perform correctly over a sufficient number of years.

Have you ever considered how difficult it might be to apply these coatings in more extreme environments? We explore the world’s top 5 most hostile places for both protective coatings and the people who apply them.


5) Large Suspension Bridges

akashi kaikyo bridge japan
Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan is the worlds longest suspension bridge and Japan’s greatest engineering achievement.

We’ve chosen the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, also known as the Pearl Bridge in Japan. It links the cities of Kobe on the mainland to Iwaya on Awaji Island. There’s a good chance you’ve driven across similar bridges in your car and you’re probably thinking, it wasn’t any different to driving down the road. However consider what the bridge has to put up with all year round.

akashi kaikyo bridge construction
Construction of the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge began in 1988 and took 10 years to complete.

High winds, driving rain, hailstones, snow and ice along with extreme temperatures of heat and cold. All this would be enough to break any structure that wasn’t robust enough to withstand such forces of nature. The strength of these bridges is maintained by keeping the steel and concrete used in their construction well protected. That’s where a protective coating of paint comes in.

The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge took 10 years to build and is expected to have a working lifespan of at least 200 years, from when it first opened in 1998. The concrete structure of the bridge and its cables are inspected all year round. The cables are protected with a waterproof membrane by installing a dehumidification metallic coating system. Dry air is pumped through the main cables to maintain constant level of humidity around the inner cables. This is revolutionary and reduces the maintenance costs for the bridge.


4) Lighthouses

fastnet rock lighthouse ireland
Fastnet Rock Lighthouse sits atop a small islet in the Atlantic Ocean and the most southerly point of Ireland.

The Fastnet Rock Lighthouse seemed like the obvious choice when talking about construction in extreme environments. It began its operating life on 1st January 1854 and was an impressive feat of engineering at the time and still is to this day. The steel structure at the very top of the building is treated with a fresh coating of white metal paint every summer. The concrete sections of the building are coatings with a masonry paint every 2 years.

lighthouse protective coating applicationThe lighthouse structure itself is constructed of cast iron with a lining of brick. The total cost for construction was £17,930 and was a demonstration of British and Irish technical ingenuity at the time. The Fastnet Rock Lighthouse, just like many other lighthouses around the world has to endure gale force winds all year round.

The winds are so strong that the entire structure would shake so violently that crockery would be thrown from tables in the early years. The lower floors were filled with solid material to dampen the effects of the wind in 1865.


3) Oil and Gas Platforms

brent oilfield production rigs scotland
Gas production platforms at the Brent Oilfield in the North Sea

We’ve chosen the Brent Oilfield in the North Sea as the perfect example of a harsh ocean environment. Oil and gas platforms are constructed almost entirely with steel and concrete. They must withstand wind speeds of over 140 mph and waves up to 100 feet high. The North Sea is one of the worlds toughest environments to work, whether you’re a fisherman or an oil worker. Ships are better equipped to cope with the weather conditions as they will pitch and roll in rough seas. However thats not an option for a production platform. They are fixed to the sea bed and must endure everything nature throws at them.

Above, a short video about oil platform construction.

gas platform large wavesConstruction of the first platform in the North Sea began in 1975 and was fully operational in November 1976. The field consists of 4 platforms, Brent Bravo, Brent Delta, Brent Charlie, and a steel-jacket Brent Alpha. It’s located 115 miles off the north-east coast of Shetland. It was once the most productive field in the North Sea. It was decommissioned in 2006 and the process is due to be complete by 2016.

Coatings used to protect these facilities are specifically designed to withstand prolonged exposure to salt and high humidity. They need to be applied with little time in between coats to take advantage of rare fair weather conditions when such maintenance is possible. Greater flexibility is important to allow structural vibrations without cracking and fracturing of the coating.

A cathodic and barrier protection along with the ability to apply protective coatings in harsh and humid conditions is vital on offshore platforms. One of only a handful of specialists in the manufacture of such coatings is Jotun. They are world leaders in production of coatings for offshore corrosion and fire protection.

Above, huge waves blast a North Sea oil platform.


2) Arctic Research Stations

british arctic research station
British Antarctic Research Station, Halley VI

Halley Research Station is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica about 1500 miles south of the Falkland Islands and 900 miles from the South Pole. It was founded in 1956 and is one of eight research stations in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. We picked this Arctic station because of its location and exposure to the harsh easterly winds that blow in off the Southern Ocean. The hole in the Ozone layer of the Earth’s atmosphere was discovered here in 1985.

The latest module was installed and completed in 2013 and sits on stilts fixed to large skis. It’s coated and maintained with high performing, high build amine cured epoxy, designed to cure at temperatures below freezing. The Epoxy is specially modified with a proprietary blend of selective resins to provide excellent adhesion and protection. The protective coatings used in the Arctic need to withstand the bombardment of frozen particles constantly blasted at up to 200 mph and temperatures as low as -100 °C!

halley vi research station cross section

Above is the architects illustration showing a cross section of the building with its different levels and facilities for the scientists. Below you can watch a short video about how the Halley Research Station was constructed.


1) International Space Station (ISS)

international space station iss
The International Space Station (ISS) first launched in 1998 and completed 2011.

Now I know you might be thinking, hang on a minute there isn’t any air in space so how do you get bad weather! Well the problem in space isn’t rain and wind off the sea, its the solar wind and all the harmful particles it carries with it. The outer skin and main components of the ISS are bombardment by ultraviolet light,  x-rays, high-energy charged electrons and protons from the solar wind. mh2200 space paint tinThis happens when the station is exposed to the sun on each Earth orbit.

Exposure to the solar wind varies depending on the position of the ISS above the Earth. The station orbits our planet every 90 minutes so exposure to the solar wind is most intense for about 45 minutes at a time. For the remaining 45 minutes the station is shielded from the harmful rays by the Earth.

The ISS orbits at an altitude of between 205 and 255 miles above sea level. To maintain this altitude the station travels at a speed of 17,500 mph and orbits the earth approximately 15 times every day. There are 16 countries involved in the project including the main partners, the United States, Russia, Canada and Japan. The United Kingdom also plays a roll in the ISS by contributing to components used in its construction.

One of the world leaders in space vehicle and satellite coatings is Alion, a US based technology company. They designed and continue to produce thermal control and protective coatings for the ISS. Many years of research and development have gone in to testing these coatings by MISSE. Materials included paint samples, glass coatings, multi-layer insulation and metallic materials. All these were tested in space and exposed to high doses of ultra violet radiation from the Sun. This enable enabled scientists to develop the best protective coatings for the ISS and other space vehicles that are subjected to the toughest conditions known to man!


So there you have it! We rely on protective coatings to perform at their best and shield man made structures in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, and in Space!

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