It happens often in research. While looking for one thing, scientists stumble across another. In this case, researchers at Oregon State University's College of Forestry were looking for an elusive wood-based adhesive that would be solid at room temperature but melt when the heat was turned up. What they stumbled upon was an easily produced, environmentally benign, pressure sensitive adhesive which holds the potential to be cheaply produced from a wide range of vegetable oils.
Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) were engaged in a frustrating search for a wood-based hot-melt composite adhesive which was required to be solid at room temperature but melt at higher temperatures. Their search was proving fruitless and then Professor Kaichang Li noticed that during one stage of the development process, a sticky resin was produced. After some quick practical tests with sheets of paper, the focus of the research project was shifted to refining the compound to produce a new pressure sensitive adhesive.
The result is "really pretty amazing," according to Li. "This adhesive is incredibly simple to make, doesn't use any organic solvents or toxic chemicals, and is based on vegetable oils that would be completely renewable, not petrochemicals. It should be about half the cost of existing technologies and appears to work just as well."
The pressure sensitive adhesive tape market is said to be worth in the region of US$26 billion worldwide and the College of Forestry researchers are looking at tapping into that market with a product that can be cheaply and easily mass-produced from renewable oil crops such as soy, corn or canola. OSU's Denis Sather commented: "We believe this innovation has the potential to replace current pressure-sensitive adhesives with a more environmentally friendly formulation at a competitive price."
Li's previous innovation credits include the development of a non-toxic, formaldehyde-free adhesive that can be used in the production of plywood and particle board.
This reminded us of another accidental discovery which went on to phenomenal worldwide success, cyanoacrylates. While researchers were looking for materials to make clear plastic gun sights in 1942, they stumbled upon a very sticky substance that we now know as super glue. Time will tell if the new compound will become equally ubiquitous.