Auto makers are pursuing reflective paint of the type once proposed in a contentious California Air Resources Board mandate, a major coatings maker says.

“Several” auto makers are studying ways to improve the reflective properties of dark colors, particularly black, says Paul Czornij, technical manager-color excellence at BASF.

Gains, if realized, would lessen climate-control load and contribute to lower fuel consumption and reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions – goals that remain core to CARB’s mission.

A CARB measure that proposed 20% reflectivity for all colors by model-year ’16 was scuttled in 2010 after Ward’s coverage of the issue triggered a national media firestorm. Ward’s reported the rule threatened to eliminate black, a highly popular consumer choice, from vehicle color palettes because the technology required for compliance did not exist.

BASF says it has solved the problem for all tones but jet-black, and auto makers are talking to the supplier about its technology. Among them: Jaguar.

“They have some interest in looking into (reflective paint) some more,” Czornij tells Ward’s.

“To get something that’s a jet-black, you have to have a very efficient pigment that absorbs the wavelengths of light,” he adds. “It’s absorbing the wavelengths that actually heat it up. The trick is to get it to look very jet-black and not heat up.”

The technology portends broader impact in large urban settings that might be home to hundreds of thousands of heat-emitting dark-colored cars, Czornij says.

“If you can reduce that heat build-up, then the heat ‘island effect’ actually goes down,” he claims.

CARB says it will revisit the issue in a few years with a “technology-neutral” approach, spokesman Stanley Young says. Expect CARB to propose vehicle-performance targets aimed at reducing heat absorption, but with leeway for auto makers to choose their own technological solutions.

Meanwhile, on the manufacturing front, BASF says the proliferation of water-based paint shops in North America’s assembly plants slowly is catching up to Europe’s penetration rate.

Newer North American plants, such as Volkswagen’s assembly site in Chattanooga, TN, and Hyundai’s complex in Montgomery, AL, feature water-based systems. But the ratio still favors solvent-based paints 60:40.

Europe moved more rapidly because aggressive environmental regulations demanded a swift transition to water-based systems, which pose “minimal” environmental impact while producing high-quality paint finishes, Czornij says.

But he tips his hat to Ford, which has harnessed the power of hydrocarbon emissions that stem from solvent-based paint formulas.

Last year, the auto maker unveiled the fourth generation of its Fumes-to-Fuel technology that captures volatile organic compounds from paint-shop emissions and funnels them into a fuel cell that produces electricity for a manufacturing site’s power grid.

emayne@wardsauto.com