A newly discovered bio-based adhesive could help speed up the long, slow fade of petrochemicals. Currently, a wide variety of pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes get their stickiness from petroleum-based polymers (large molecules composed of strings of repeating units). Now an almost accidental discovery by researchers at Oregon State University raises the potential for replacing the fossil-derived substance with soy oil and other renewable oils.
“Green chemistry” – the replacement of toxic substances with safer alternatives – is a rapidly growing trend, helped along by U.S. military’s growing interest in sustainability. Though adhesive tape might not seem like such a big deal, when you think about all the masking tape, packing tape, duct tape, sticky notes and other tapes in daily use by industry, office workers and residences, it all adds up to a $26 billion global industry that could make the leap from petrochemicals into a more safe and sustainable future.
The Oregon State breakthrough came about when researchers were trying to develop a sustainable adhesive that could be used in a hot-melt application to create a wood-based composite product. A similar problem was tackled last year at the University of Kansas, where a scientist developed a method for making 100% edible cattle feed barrels from straw and a soy-based adhesive. The Oregon State researchers were having no luck with their intended purpose, but they did find that their vegetable oil-based adhesive had the kind of high performance pressure sensitive properties that would make it ideal for a wide range of tapes. The manufacturing process would apparently be more simple and far less costly than petrochemicals, using such crops as soy, corn, and canola.
Earth to Fossil Fuels: Buh-Bye
Not to overstate the obvious – but oh heck, why not – in the many millions of years that marked the formative period of the Earth, environmental conditions where not exactly condusive to life as we know it today. Only in the relatively recent past did this became a pretty comfortable planet for us humans, thanks to the fact that various toxic substances and excess energy in the form of fossil fuels were locked safely away beneath the Earth’s surface. Now in just a few short generations we’re finding out the hard way that for the sake of the next however many millions of years, we better start leaving all that stuff be.
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