More sustainable adhesive tape made from wood scraps

A team of engineers at the University of Delaware, US, developed a more sustainable way of making adhesive tape, using the wood scraps.

Whether you’re using tape to wrap a gift, or stick a band-aid on a wound, the material is kept in place by an adhesive. These sticky substances are often made from petroleum-derived materials.

The researchers from Delaware developed a novel process to make tape out a component of trees and plants called lignin. Lignin is the material that gives plants their strength. This substance is abundantly available, as it is a waste material from the paper industry.

Lignin is a natural polymer and shares some structural and material property similarities with petroleum-derived polymers that are commonly used in adhesives and other consumer products. This gave a clue that the material could be used to replaced petroleum-derived adhesives.

Before the lignin could be transformed into a product, it was broken down by researcher at the Catalysis Center of Energy Innovation. Using a commercially available catalyst, the researchers broke down the lignin into small, molecular fragments in a low-temperature process. In turn, the researchers from the University of Delaware turned what was left over in a pressure sensitive adhesive.

Not only is the new adhesive more sustainable than its oil-derived counterpart, it performs just as well as at least to commercially available products.

The team used lignin sourced from poplar wood, but they plant to explore the potential of other woods and plants with high lignin content, such as switchgrass. It’s possible that these adhesives will have slightly different properties than poplar. In addition to adhesives, applications could also include things like rubber bands, O-rings, gaskets and seals, or even car tires.

Image: Univeristy of Delaware