Any prospect for a greener, more sustainable plywood?

Continuing the topic of sustainability, today’s post will be about how we can further sustainability efforts by introducing a new, greener way to produce engineered wood. As we’ve learned in a previous article about the widely used formaldehyde glue, it is not the most sustainable option out there. Currently one of the most capable adhesives in the market, formaldehyde-based glue is being used to manufacture a number of wood panels such as oriented strand board, particle board and plywood. However, sustained exposure to the glue’s formaldehyde increases the risk for lungs and respiratory related diseases. Not to mention, formaldehyde also emits a lot of environmentally harmful gas into the air. Although there are variants of the glue manufactured specifically to reduce gas emission, they still produce a small amount of formaldehyde. Therefore, it can not be considered as 100% sustainable, are we just destined to live with formaldehyde?

As of now, formaldehyde is one of the few suitable options for engineered wood adhesive, but that is probably about to change soon. Researchers from the University of Aalto, Finland have successfully developed a new type of glue made out of lignin. Lignin is an organic polymer compound that can be found in most types of wood, the glue made out of it is considered a more sustainable and healthier alternative to formaldehyde-based glue. Lignin takes up around a quarter of the total weight of wood and is responsible for wood’s strong and hardy nature. Usually extracted as a by-product of the pulp production process and despite their great binding properties, a large amount of lignin is burned for energy. Lignin glue has many advantages over formaldehyde glue, with significantly faster production time compared to the 10 hours it takes to produce formaldehyde glue. More importantly, lignin lacks the toxicity of formaldehyde, being completely safe and environmentally-friendly while also just as strong.

Many environmentalists are promoting the use of timber in construction over concrete, due to the lower carbon footprint of timber materials. With the arrival of engineered wood panels, the use of timber materials increases in popularity as products such as plywood, OBS and particle boards are more economical in their use of forest resources compared to solid wood. The introduction of lignin glue would, in theory, eliminate the only significant downside to engineered wood, elevating their use even more. Therefore, it is important that we push the development of lignin glue and put it forward into commercialization as soon as we can.

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