Zeolite-based wood glues shown to absorb pollutants off-gassed from particleboard


January 14, 2011

A model zeolite molecule, illustrating its porous structure and large inner surface area (Photo: Fraunhofer)

A model zeolite molecule, illustrating its porous structure and large inner surface area (Photo: Fraunhofer)

It has been estimated that up to 85 percent of all wood materials (such as particleboard or plywood) contain adhesives that in turn contain formaldehyde, and the World Health Organization has classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply avoid eating those wood products – even the fumes given off by formaldehyde have been shown to pose a health hazard. Many people turn to keeping spider plants in their homes or offices, as they help neutralize airborne toxins, but now help could be coming from another source. German researchers have discovered that by adding special minerals to wood adhesives, those adhesives themselves can help clean the air.

The research was conducted at Fraunhofer’s Institute for Wood Research and Institute for Silicate Research. The scientists found that modified zeolites, a type of aluminosilicate, were able to act as a kind of “molecular sieve.” This is because they have a porous structure, combined with a very large inner surface – formaldehyde molecules easily find their way in, and then adhere to that inner surface, so they can’t get out.

The best results were obtained specifically from synthetic zeolite Y, after it was modified and improved with amino groups.

“We noticed a 70 percent boost in the adsorption rate after we added formaldehyde to the processed material in our measuring chambers and then we put five percent by weight of the zeolite powder directly into our sample particleboards made of spruce roundwood,” explained Fraunhofer’s Dr. Jan Gunschera. “The result was that formaldehyde emissions from the board dropped 40 percent – both short-term and long-term tests of one month confirm these findings. In other words, the air in living spaces should be measurably improved. Our tests indicate that this technology can even reduce indoor air pollutant levels.”

The properties of the wood did not appear to be affected by the addition of the zeolites. The researchers are now also looking into adding the minerals to furniture and ceiling panels, to further remove formaldehyde and other pollutants from indoor air.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I\'m glad to see some attention on formaldehyde. However, I do have some concerns.

1) What about the 60% of the original formaldehyde that is still off gassing? 2) What happens in the long-term like 50 years not just 1-month?

The reason for my concerns is I had particle board that was 47 years old and still off gassing enough that the room concentration of formaldehyde was 115 parts per billion (ppb). IF the reduction of formaldehyde remained at 40% after 47 years, the room concentration would have been 69 ppb, nearly as much as the typical infamous FEMA trailer which was 77 ppb. At some point the zeolite will get saturated and unable to reduce addition off gassing.

Why not simply shift to a non-formaldehyde based resin to avoid the entire issue? There are alternative that are currently in production. Doesn\'t it make more sense to avoid a toxin opposed to trying to capture some percentage of the toxin?


If your house is by the Sea then watch out! Zeolite releases its absorbed chemicals on exposure to salt...

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