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Thanks to Tofu, The Plywood of the Future Will Be Safer and Healthier

USDA scientists are developing soy based glues using a substance found in tofu and soy milkThe petroleum-based adhesives used to make plywood and many other wood products have a nasty habit of leaching toxic formaldehyde fumes, but all that is on the way out. Scientists from the USDA Forest Products Laboratory are working on a new class of soy-based wood adhesive that uses a substance found in soy milk and tofu.

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Soy-based wood adhesives that perform as well as their petroleum-based cousins are already inching their way into the market, but the USDA scientists have a more ambitious goal: to develop soy-based glues that are even stronger than conventional glues.

The End of Toxic Adhesives

The soy glue research is part of a broader trend toward developing glues based on nontoxic substances rather than on harsh chemicals. It’s not all about the the environmental and health issues, either. The long-term outlook for supply and price stability in the oil market is iffy, to say the least, and composite wood product manufacturers are eager to find a more reliable source for this key ingredient. Aside from plywood and other building and furniture components, there is a world of possibilities for using bio-based adhesives to boost the bottom line. For example, a researcher at Kansas State University has developed an edible cattle feed barrel made from straw and soy adhesive, which saves farmers a substantial amount on cleaning and shipping conventional feed barrels.

More Bio-Based Adhesives in the Future

Soy products are just one potential feedstock for bio-glues.  The Kansas State team is also looking into using byproducts from corn, sorghum and other biofuel crops to make adhesives, as a means of adding value to biofuel operations.  Scientists at the University of Oregon have been working with bio-based adhesives made from  soy and other vegetable oils, specifically for use in developing greener adhesive tapes.

Image: Tofu by FotoosVaRobin on flickr.com.

 
 
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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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