A New Formaldehyde-Free Wood Adhesive

Bio-based adhesive could be boon for particleboard manufacturers and advanced wood products industry

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new wood adhesive being developed by a Corvallis, Ore. startup for use in particleboard manufacturing and other advanced wood products applications is on track to be the first formaldehyde-free, bio-based adhesive for that market.

Developed by EcoPro Polymers, with support from Oregon BEST and Oregon State University, the adhesive contains no urea-formaldehyde, a chemical that releases formaldehyde – a known human carcinogen.

The new adhesive solves the decades-old formaldehyde off-gassing issue from furniture, cabinets and other products made from particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF). More than 60 percent of MDF and particleboard is currently made with adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde, known to hydrolyze and release formaldehyde into the atmosphere over time.

"For 60 years, formaldehyde off-gassing has been an issue with urea-formaldehyde, the most common adhesive used in a particleboard and fiberboard," said Fred Kamke, OSU professor of wood science and engineering and director of the Green Building Materials Lab, an Oregon BEST Lab located on the OSU campus. "Although emissions have been reduced dramatically over the years, formaldehyde is still being emitted and some markets are demanding formaldehyde-free solutions."

Although some manufacturers are currently using formaldehyde-free MDI (methylene diphenyl di-isocyanate) as an alternative adhesive, workers must wear personal protection equipment during production, and long term exposure to MDI can lead to asthma and other health issues. The MDI-based adhesive also lacks the pre-press tack of urea-formaldehyde, so it can't be used in continuous-flow production facilities now favored by MDF and particleboard manufacturers.

Sample of SpekPly panel"We've come up with a whole different formula that addresses both the off-gassing from urea-formaldehyde products as well as panel manufacturing issues associated with MDI," said EcoPro Polymers' founder Humayun Mandal, who has a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry and left a career in the adhesive and sealant industry to launch EcoPro Polymers in 2014.

Oregon BEST is investing $124,000 of early-stage funding to speed commercialization of the adhesive by supporting a collaboration between EcoPro Polymers and OSU researchers. The adhesive is showing promise in lab trials and has already attracted keen interest from SpekPly LLC, another Oregon BEST-supported startup that makes architectural panels from agricultural byproducts (sample shown above) and was looking for a nontoxic, plant-based adhesive formulation.

SpekPly happened to be using the Green Building Materials Lab, when its founder, Dirk Wallace, met Mandal and learned about the new adhesive. After more testing, Wallace found the adhesive to be ideal for SpekPly's architectural product line.

SpekPly Logo"It was serendipitous that our research in the Oregon BEST lab at OSU resulted in a connection with EcoPro Polymers," said Dirk Wallace, founder of SpekPly. "The new adhesive is allowing us to move forward with a formaldehyde-free product that utilizes agricultural waste and is nontoxic."

Like SpekPly, many wood products manufacturers are hungry for an alternative adhesive, especially since California implemented the world's strictest regulation of formaldehyde emissions in 2012.

"Industry will be excited about anything that allows them to get a formaldehyde-free option and doesn't cost them any more than urea-formaldehyde products," said Kamke. "But it has to be economical and can't introduce other toxicity issues."

The lab testing at OSU is helping EcoPro Polymers refine adhesive formulations that pencil out economically. Last month, EcoPro Polymers was named one of two finalists in the five-state Pacific Northwest Region Cleantech Open competition and will compete for a $200,000 prize at the Cleantech Open Global Forum in San Francisco on November 17-19.

"Without Oregon BEST and the testing they are supporting at Oregon State, I don't think we would be able to commercialize our product," said Mandal. "So that's huge. Without that support, we would have had to look for some other independent lab that could do this, and there aren't very many."

Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization Programs at Oregon BEST, says the project illustrates the impact of applying cleantech solutions to the wood products industry.

"Not only is EcoPro developing a new adhesive that will potentially solve the formaldehyde emissions issue, but SpekPly is already benefitting from the innovation, while producing a value-added product from agricultural waste," Vaughn said. "It's exciting to be helping these companies produce products that improve the world while creating jobs here in Oregon."

Oregon BEST offers a wide range of support for cleantech startups in Oregon, and currently has more than 40 start-up companies listed as Oregon BEST Companies that are receiving help moving technologies toward the marketplace.

Media Contact: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
Sources: Ken Vaughn, Oregon BEST, 503-430 4529; Humayun "Hugh" Mandal, EcoPro Polymers, 541-713-1322; Fred Kamke, OSU, 541-737-8422; Dirk Wallace, SpekPly, 541-953-9288

About Oregon BEST http://oregonbest.org
Oregon BEST funds and assists cleantech startups, bringing together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths to support entrepreneurs in the creation of new products and services. As the nexus for clean technology innovation, Oregon BEST builds capability, convenes collaborations and accelerates solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. More than 250 Oregon BEST Member Faculty and a network of nine Oregon BEST Labs at four partner universities (Oregon State University, Oregon Tech, Portland State University, and University of Oregon) offer research expertise and lab equipment to industry. Oregon BEST competitively awards Early-Stage Investments to collaborations between startup companies and Oregon BEST Member Faculty at partner universities.

About EcoPro Polymers http://ecopropolymers.com
EcoPro Polymers is developing green, renewable and environmentally benign adhesives based on proprietary technology. The bio-based, zero formaldehyde emissions adhesives can be applied to a variety of sub-segments for interior green building materials within the construction sector and contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions during manufacture and end-use applications.

About Spekply http://www.spekply.com
Spekply™ is a manufacturer of modern architectural products including architectural panels and other innovative products.
Their premier product, Striata™, is sold and distributed exclusively by TorZo Sustainable Surfaces.