Green Chemistry Adhesives Plywood

Green chemistry is dedicated to a series of ideas.  Pollutants should be minimized.  Whenever possible, toxicity should be avoided.  “Feedstocks” (precursor materials / chemicals) should be cheap and readily available.  The finished product should be comparable to current items on the market, so as to be commercially viable.  All of these principles are shown to be true in the area of adhesives.

Most adhesives used to prepare plywood and other wood composites contain a toxic chemical called formaldehyde to bind the wood particles together.  This is the same chemical used to embalm dead bodies.  Recently, researchers at Oregon State University made an astonishing breakthrough by developing a competitive adhesive made simply from soy flour.  Even better, their adhesive is environmentally friendly, stronger, and cheaper than conventional adhesives.  In 2006 alone, this new soy-based adhesive was used to replace close to 50 million pounds of the conventional adhesives based on formaldehyde.

This invention was inspired by the lowliest of creatures – the simple sea-bound mussel.  The researchers, inspired by the properties of the protein that the creatures used to attach themselves to rocks, designed environmentally friendly wood adhesives based around soy flour – an abundant and renewable resource.  While soy flour and mussels may not seem to have much in common, the scientists genetically modified some of the amino acids in the soy protein to mimic the behavior of the mussels’ adhesive protein.  With the addition of a curing agent to harden the resultant gooey mass, it was ready to be used in the commercial production of plywood.

These soy-based adhesives do not contain formaldehyde, or even use formaldehyde as a raw material. They are environmentally friendly, they are competitive with the formaldehyde process in terms of cost, and even better, they are superior to the formaldehyde-treated plywood in terms of both water resistance and strength.  Numerous plywood plants are now switching over to this new process, which replaces hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from each manafacturing plant by close to 90 percent. 

With this technology in hand, craftsmen who make furniture, kitchen cabinetry, and other wood objects gain access to a high-performance, nontoxic, formaldehyde-free alternative.  Indoor air quality improves significantly.  Not only does this technology greatly enhance the global competitiveness of U.S. wood, but it creates new markets for soy flour, which is currently in over-supply.  Once again, “Green Chemistry” proves to be both economical and beneficial to all parties involved.