WASHINGTON, D.C. – An Oregon State University professor who invented a non-toxic adhesive for production of wood composite panels has been recognized with a 2007 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.
The award is being made today at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., by the Environmental Protection Agency, which sponsors this program that honors innovators who have helped reduce waste or toxins in manufacturing processes.
Kaichang Li, one of just seven people or organizations in the nation to be honored, is an OSU professor of wood science and engineering who received the “Greener Synthetic Pathways Award.” Also recognized were Li’s industrial collaborators in the development of this product, Columbia Forest Products of Portland, Ore., and Hercules Incorporated of Wilmington, Del.
During the past 12 years that these awards have been made, the advances they recognize have led to the elimination of over 940 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents, 600 million gallons of water, and 340 million pounds of carbon dioxide, officials say.
Li’s work in developing this new type of alternative adhesive was inspired several years ago by his observation of mussels on the Oregon coast, clinging tightly to rocks despite being pounded by constant waves.
"I was amazed at the time to see these small mussels attach themselves so strongly to rocks," said Li, an expert in wood chemistry and adhesives. "I didn't know of any other type of adhesive that could work this well in water and withstand so much force."
The mussels' byssus, small threads that attach them to rocks and other surfaces, is a protein with a very unusual composition that results in the ability of mussels to stick tightly to surfaces despite being inundated in water.
Li began his research through chemical modifications of soybean protein using mussel adhesive protein as a model. He later developed a unique curing agent that is able to convert inexpensive, abundant, and readily available soybean flour to a superior adhesive for bonding wood. In collaborative work with private industry, a strong, environmentally friendly, cost-competitive adhesive was used to replace toxic urea-formaldehyde resin in commercial production of wood composite panels, such as plywood and particleboard.
Last year, Columbia Forest Products converted all its plywood plants to the new adhesive, replaced the use of more than 47 million pounds of the conventional formaldehyde-based adhesive, and at each of its plants reduced emissions of hazardous air pollutants by 50-90 percent. Continued commercial development and expanded use of the new adhesive is anticipated.
This award program was created after passage of the 1990 Pollution Prevention Act, which made it national policy to reduce pollution at its source whenever feasible. It encourages scientific solutions to real-world environmental problems associated with the design, manufacture, and use of chemicals.
Participants in the award ceremony included representatives of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, National Academy of Sciences, American Chemical Society, Small Business Administration, and EPA.