Researchers from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research are hot on the trail of a new mineral-based formula that would enable plywood walls, cabinets, and other building elements to “eat” their own formaldehyde emissions. The breakthrough could help bring an end to indoor air quality issues, such as the health problems that beset survivors of Hurricane Katrina, who were housed in new trailer homes filled with fume-emitting composite wood products.
Formaldehyde and Composite Wood Products
Plywood, particle board and many other composite wood products pop up in everything from children’s toys to furniture, cabinetry and home building supplies. Without adequate ventilation these composite products can pollute indoor air and pose a serious health risk, due to the widespread use of formaldehyde-based resins and glues. New federal legislation has imposed tough formaldehyde emissions standards that must be met by January 1, 2013.
Pollution-Eating Composite Wood Products
The Fraunhofer researchers focused their efforts on zeolites, a group of porous minerals in the clay family. Zeolites have good adsorption qualities (technically speaking, adsorption is to adhere to a surface, in contrast to absorb, which refers to the dissolving of a fluid) and are commonly used in water purification systems and laundry detergents. The researchers, however, were dissatisfied with the adsorption efficiency of naturally occurring zeolites, and developed a synthetic variety.
A Kinder, Gentler Plywood
In addition to reducing formaldehyde emissions from wood products, the modified zeolites could potentially be used to reduce other kinds of pollutants commonly found in indoor air. If the research can be successfully commercialized, it would join a growing list of safer, more healthful wood adhesive alternatives including soy-based adhesives that can be used to make agricultural products such as edible feed barrels, in addition to domestic uses.
Image: Plywood toy by kaktuslampan on flickr.com.