Mind & Matter


Wood Glue from Soybeans

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In today’s increasingly environmentally aware society, the ubiquity of formaldehyde in wood manufacturing has been downplayed. A pervasive chemical used as an adhesive in plywood, particle board, and other wood products, formaldehyde is a potential carcinogen and releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can irritate one’s eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Given its toxicity and derivation from fossil fuels, researchers have been seeking alternative glues from environmentally friendly sources.

This week, researchers from the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Wisconsin discussed the development of soy-based adhesives at the American Chemical Society’s national conference. Based on soy flour, which has inherent hydrophobic properties, the new glues are said to be as effective as formaldehyde without the negative side effects.

According to Dr. Charles Frihart, “Protein adhesives allowed the development of composite wood products such as plywood in the early 20th century. Petrochemical-based adhesives replaced proteins in most applications based upon cost, production efficiencies, and better durability. However, several technologies and environmental factors have led to a resurgence of protein, especially soy flour, as an important adhesive for interior plywood and wood flooring.”

Although soy-based glues make up less than five percent of wood adhesives currently in use, Dr. Frihart and his colleagues anticipate the use of non-petroleum glues to expand rapidly in the coming years based on their positive environmental attributes.



Comments (2 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 8:20 AM Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    I am a plywood manufacturer in India and would like know more about the glue and its economic vialbility vis-a-vis formaldehyde. Also which companies manufacture this soy based glue?

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 5:31 PM Monday, August 30, 2010

    since it now has soy, i imagine that plywood can become a food source in haute cuisine.

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.