Sticking it to the Paper Industry

It’s easy to take for granted the value of self-adhesive products. I can guarantee my productivity would be nonexistent if it weren’t for the simple salvation of portable post-it notes. The little reminders are constantly being moved from paper to paper, desk to door, reminding me of the things I’ve forgotten (and sometimes purposefully neglect). I’d be curious to know how many birthday presents were wrapped by sentimental scientist before the realization that there is an opportunity for innovation in the realm of adhesives.

An ambitious group of engineers from the University of Delaware (UD) has been studying ways to remove waste outputs from the paper industry. Following the intensive process of converting entire trees into paper and paper products, leftover materials are discarded to landfills. It was discovered that the paper industry has so much excess biomass that delivering any product to science for upcycling is cheaper than alternative landfill costs. Therefore UD has been receiving leftover materials by the truckload, totally free as if this industry is begging to be rid of it. One such material which is important to the UD engineers is lignin.

Lignin, a tightly bonded polymer in vascular plants, is produced within cell wall of woody plants. This naturally created compound has a comparable structural integrity to manmade petroleum-based polymers. Lignin is one of the toughest photosynthetic molecules to manipulate- a testament to the ambition of these brave chemical engineers. Scientists have tested various processes to efficiently break down these compounds for further human manipulation. The most successful efforts have been led by Dr.Thomas H. Epps. Dr.Epps suggests, “lignin could be used to make adhesives with similar strength, toughness, and scratch resistance to the petroleum-based versions."

Currently, researchers at UD have been working with lignin from poplar trees. However, the science suggests that other species will yield varying results. Swapping the source of lignin may alter the strength and longevity of the adhesive. This claim hints at the future of upcycled adhesives from duct to electrical tape. Will we see a rejuvenate line of adhesive materials in stores soon?

Watch out Scotch tape, a new material may be sticking to the shelves!

Read more here.

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