Soy-Glue to rescue the increased toxicity of composite wood panels (like particleboard)

September 24, 2010 § 6 Comments

conventional plywood uses formaldehyde-outgassing adhesive

new wood glues based on soy proteins bring woodworking to new green heights

As sustainability grows into people’s consciousnesses and as the 8th largest economy in the world and 1st in USA, California, sets new rules on toxic chemicals and becomes more environmentally friendly each year, manufacturers are forced to follow and mobilize their herds of scientists to develop new products that meet the requirements.

One such requirement is less toxic, more eco-friendly wood composites. The main compound in these wood composites that is blamed for off-gassing and having high-toxicity is formaldehyde, a compound known to quickly dissolving in mucus membranes in the nose, throat and lungs, causing irritation and triggering asthma attacks.

Although manufacturers have taken shy steps to reduce formaldehyde releases, a more radical solution could reside in the plant that was originally used to glue plywood — the soybean. Charles Frihart, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory says: “Biological materials were used as adhesives until petroleum became very cheap after World War II and the synthetics displaced agricultural, natural material.” The better understanding of protein-based adhesives and modern chemistry allow scientists to research soy-based glues that equal or even outrun synthetic, petroleum-based and often toxic contemporary wood glues.  As with the rubber story, the soy-based glue is possible due to cross-linking.

The cross-linking invention is already helping to reduce indoor formaldehyde pollution at the top of the furniture market, where plywood is used instead of particle board, Frihart says. “More than 50 percent of interior plywood used for cabinets and furniture is now being made with the improved soy-based adhesive.” On the whole wood adhesive market soy-based adhesives currently make up less than five percent.  It is hoped that this study will help increase the use and presence of “green” adhesives across the world. The US Forest Service is currently developing the adhesives in partnership with Ashland Hercules and Heartland Resource Technologies.

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