By: Tina Casey
Researcher Susan Sun of Kansas State University has an answer for all those hungry cows out there: let them eat barrels. Sun’s work on sustainable biomass adhesives has already lead to an edible barrel for cattle feed made with straw and soy adhesive. More products are on the horizon, including a new formula that improves the flowability and strength of raw bioplastic, making it easier to pour and mold.
The edible barrels replace oil drums, which cost approximately $6 per barrel to clean for re-use as feed containers in addition to the cost of the barrel. Sun’s elegant waste reduction solution relieves farmers of this expense while practically eliminating the risk of oil-contaminated feed from poorly cleaned barrels. It also eliminates waste or water pollution associated with the cleaning process, and it eliminates the cost (and carbon footprint) of returning used barrels for re-use.
Bio-Based Adhesives and the Biofuel Market
Sun’s research team is focusing on adhesives made from the by-products of soybean, corn, and sorghum among other biofuel crops. The idea is to develop high-value products that can compete with conventional products, to boost the cost-effectiveness of biofuel crops overall. By recovering more by-products that are profitable, bio-based adhesives could help eliminagte the gap between biofuel and petroleum product prices on the open market.
Adhesives and the Environment
Edible paste is nothing new to elementary school classrooms. It’s a different story in the adult world, where everything from art, craft, and hobby to construction and manufacturing relies on highly toxic adhesives made from formaldehyde and isocyanide.
The Market for Bio-Based Adhesives
Non-toxic adhesives are already becoming more readily available, at least on the art, craft, and hobby end. The Green Guide for Artists has some suggestions, Greenguard has certified a low-VOC glue called Liquid Nails, and another low-VOC white glue called EcoGlue is also on the market. With laminated countertops, flooring, and furniture just a few examples, the potential market for a bio-based adhesive in construction and manufacturing is enormous, and it may be hastened along by the U.S. military’s new, urgent focus on reducing and eliminating its use of toxic chemicals.
The Future of Bio-Based Adhesives
One roadblock to fully commercializing the use of bio-based adhesives is the need for a formula that can be applied quickly, and also cures quickly. Susan Sun explains that leftover cellulosic (woody) biomass from biofuel production contains a significant amount of lignin, a complex chemical compound that forms the cell walls of plants. Lignins are especially ideal for pressure-sensitive adhesives such as those used on tape, postage stamps, and name tags.
Image: law_keven on flickr.com.