Federal regulators have given final environmental approval for a groundbreaking blue pigment discovered in Oregon.  The clearance opens the door for “YInMn Blue” to be manufactured for commercial sale in a broad range of products.

The blue, discovered in 2009 by Oregon State University chemist Mas Subramanian, was the first new blue pigment developed in more than 200 years. Subramanian made the discovery accidentally while trying to create new materials to use in electronics. 

YInMn blue is named for the three component minerals: yttrium, indium, and manganese.  The color was licensed from OSU by the Ohio-based Shepherd Color Company in 2015. 

“It’s not too often that there’s a new pigment chemistry discovered,” said David Wawer, head of the Color Pigments Manufacturers Association.

And the adoption of new pigments by manufacturers requires a significant commitment of time and money.  A couple of years back, Shepherd was given provisional authorization to use the pigment in industrial coatings and plastics. 

“The approval of this substance discovered in [2009], even with color pigments industry technical support, took a long time to bring to market in a very limited scale,” Wawer said.

The new Environmental Protection Agency approval expands that list of uses further to include specialty and general-use paints.

Pigments are generally made of inorganic materials (minerals) and are more durable than organic dyes, which are more commonly used in food and clothing. 

In addition to its brilliant color and durability in the face of heat and environmental exposure, YInMn blue also possesses a reflective quality that allows the deep blue to stay cooler than other similar pigments when exposed to sunlight.  Along these lines, Shepherd plays up these qualities in their marketing literature: “Dark blue-shade colors for building products with high solar reflectance for regulatory approvals and reduced energy for cooling.”

Since discovering YInMn blue, OSU’s Subramanian has given significant attention to developing additional pigments.  At the end of 2019, his lab announced the discovery of another new class of blue pigments called “hibonite blue.”

In an interview last winter, Subramanian told OPB that this need for commercial and environmental viability has created parameters for the materials he uses in his search for new colors.    

“I don’t want to have anything toxic because we [won’t be able to create] a pigment used in various applications. So we’re only looking for materials which are non-toxic, but at the same time trying to get the same vivid color.”