Sticky Business

Incidental discovery could lead to a revolution in the adhesives industry

The OSU researchers were working toward a hot-melt adhesive made from cheap and plentiful vegetable oils that could be used in wood composites. For that purpose, they were making little progress.

But at one point, Kaichang Li, an international expert in wood chemistry and composites, and his postdoctoral research associate, Anlong Li, noticed that their adhesive seemed to be very sticky at room temperature. They tried a pretty simple experiment – rubbing some of it on a piece of paper – and quickly realized they had created a very different kind of pressure-sensitive adhesive.

Kaichang Li developed a new pressure-sensitive adhesive for potential use in a global industry with estimated revenues of $20 billion. Anlong Li (no relation), a research associate, collaborated on the project.

Kaichang Li developed a new pressure-sensitive adhesive for potential use in a global industry with estimated revenues of $20 billion. Anlong Li (no relation), a research associate, collaborated on the project.

From that fortunate incident, the scientists proceeded through a rigorous analysis to identify a promising new adhesive material, and it has now been licensed to Avery Dennison Corporation, which will explore developing it into commercially viable pressure-sensitive adhesives. These are used in everything from consumer packaged goods labels to sticky notes and postage stamps.

“This could become a pretty amazing adhesive,” says Kaichang Li, a professor in the OSU College of Forestry. “It’s made from renewable sources and could reduce our use of petroleum products, it’s remarkably simple to make, and it could cost less than existing petrochemical-based products.”

$20 Billion Market

OSU has applied for a patent on the process, naming Kaichang Li and Anlong Li as the inventors. The licensee, Avery Dennison, is a California-based world leader in adhesive materials technology. The Fredonia Group estimates the annual global market for pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes is more than $20 billion.

“This relationship underscores the importance of working with the business community to market technologies developed at OSU,” says Brian Wall, director of the OSU Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development.

There have been previous attempts to make pressure-sensitive adhesives from vegetable oils, the researchers say, but they used the same type of polymerization chemistry as the acrylate-based, pressure-sensitive adhesives now used to make tape. That technology didn’t cost much less or perform as well.

“This new technology appears to have real promise, and we’re eager to explore its potential,” says Dave Edwards, Avery Dennison’s vice president and chief technology officer. “We want to find out if this material can be translated into adhesives that can consistently meet the high performance standards of the industry while providing ourselves and our customers with greater flexibility in terms of sourcing and options that are, additionally, more sustainable.”

Renewable Materials

Anlong Li, the research associate who collaborated with Kaichang Li in creating the new compound, says it could have many advantages. “The new material could be made of naturally renewable substances entirely. You could make this adhesive from several different vegetable oils, such as soy, linseed, canola, palm, corn or sunflower oil. The process doesn’t use any organic solvents or toxic chemicals, so it could reduce our need for petrochemicals that are being depleted and increasingly expensive. It could become very important in the global market.”

The new approach developed at OSU is based on a different type of polymerization process that offers both low cost and improved performance.

It wasn’t what the researchers set out to create.

It was even better.

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