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A brand new plastic coating for metal could soon mean that rust is a thing of the past.

Called polyaniline, the polymer actually takes part in the rusting process, creating a layer that is almost impervious to the effects of air, water and salt.

Instead of the usual technique of coating metals with zinc paint, which reacts with oxygen leaving the metal underneath unaffected, polyaniline acts as a catalyst that intervenes in the reaction that leads to corrosion. The polymer takes electrons from the metal and, in turn, gives them to oxygen, forming a layer of pure oxide that halts corrosion.

Marketed by Ormecon Chemie at Ammersbek, Germany, the polymer coating has many other advantages over zinc. It is not a heavy metal, which means it has less impact on the food chain and human health, it is cheaper and can be applied to virtually any metal.

Ormecon's president, Dr Bernard Wessling, says that it creates an 'organic metal that could last forever'. Indeed, under controlled laboratory conditions, polyaniline prevented rust 10,000 times more effectively than zinc, although field test results gave an effectiveness of between three to 10 times that of zinc.

The chemical is already being used for projects in several Asian and European countries, including Japan, Korea, Italy, Germany and France.

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