CORVALLIS, Ore. – Kaichang Li, a professor of wood science and engineering at Oregon State University, has been honored by the Wall Street Journal for his invention of a non-toxic adhesive for production of wood composite panels.
Li was recognized as runner-up in the environment category in the Innovation Awards of the Wall Street Journal – one of just 32 awards out of 700 entries.
Li’s development of this new 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. He later identified the proteins in the mussels' byssus – small threads that attach them to rocks and other surfaces – which allow them to stick tightly to surfaces despite being inundated in water.
Through chemical modifications of soybean protein, using mussel adhesive protein as a model, Li developed a unique curing agent that is able to convert inexpensive, abundant, and readily available soybean flour into a superior adhesive for bonding wood. In collaborative work with private industry, a strong, environmentally friendly, cost-competitive adhesive was created to replace toxic urea-formaldehyde resin in commercial production of wood composite panels, such as plywood and particleboard.
Columbia Forest Products converted all its plywood plants to the new adhesive in 2006, 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.
The company has also made this technology available to all other wood composite manufacturers. Continued commercial development and expanded use of the new adhesive is anticipated, in the U.S. and around the world.