Avalon Industries is launching a research project to replace formaldehyde with bio-based, non-toxic 5-HMF (5-hydroxymethylfurfural). The project focuses on resins for the furniture industry, although the research is relevant to several sectors that might employ 5-HMF as a substitute for formaldehyde, e.g. as an active ingredient in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical sectors, or in the manufacture of textiles, bottles or food packaging.
Why do we need to replace formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a key material for the chemical industry, serving as the source for many chemical compounds. The EU produces approximately 10 million tonnes per year, and 47 million tonnes of formaldehyde are produced worldwide. A large proportion of synthesized formaldehyde is used in the production of glues and impregnating resins for wood-based materials. Adhesive resins are used in the manufacture of particle boards, plywood panels and chipboards.
The formaldehyde-based resin manufacturing industry has been facing an increasing challenge since formaldehyde was classified as carcinogenic and mutagenic in the 6th adaptation to technical and scientific progress of the CLP (Classification, Labelling and Packaging) EU directive in June 2014. This classification had far-reaching and immediate consequences for a variety of business sectors.
What is the project?
The research project, ‘Development of a formaldehyde-free phenol type adhesive system for the manufacturing of plywood’, aims to come up with a formaldehyde-free, sustainable and non-toxic adhesive for industrial use in the wood-processing industry. The project will also investigate the replacement of phenol with lignin in order to develop 100% bio-based lignin-HMF resins. The project is being undertaken by Avalon Industries, in conjunction with the Institute for Materials and Wood Technology, Bern University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland.
Government-sponsored by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), the project will build on the positive results from a similar research project, run by Avalon’s parent company AVA-CO2, to develop non-toxic urea-HMF resins.
What does Avalon say?
“We’re delighted to lead yet another project developing non-toxic resins,” said Thomas Kläusli, Chief Marketing Officer at Avalon Industries. “The aim of this project is to develop a formaldehyde-free, sustainable phenol-HMF adhesive for industrial use in the wood-processing industry. We consider 5-HMF to be the most promising formaldehyde alternative for future resin production. In addition to replacing formaldehyde, we will also be studying the replacement of phenol with lignin in order to achieve a truly 100% bio-based adhesive.”
What is 5-HMF?
5-HMF is a bio-based platform chemical containing both an aldehyde and an alcohol functional group. The special characteristics of 5-HMF offer many applications in different industries. For example, the oxidation of 5-HMF to FDCA (furandicarboxylic acid) forms the basis for the manufacture of PEF (polyethylene furanoate). PEF is a bio-based substitute for petroleum-based PET and can, amongst other applications, be used in the manufacture of bottles for soft drinks or for food packaging. It can also be used in the textile industry or the medical technology sector. 5-HMF has applications in the pharmaceutical industry, as an API (active pharmaceutical ingredient), and also has uses in foodstuffs and in the agrochemical sector. The research project may lead to various ways to employ 5-HMF as a substitute for the carcinogenic formaldehyde.