Potatoes and Wood Panels

By Chuck Ray | Posted: 11/26/2013 10:06AM

 

Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations One of the major tussles in the wood industry over the past decade has been the effort by the EPA to ban formaldehyde-based resins in the production of particleboard, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), oriented-strand board (OSB) and other wood products. Industry groups have understandably resisted the EPA's effort, since these resins have proven to be reliable, low-cost binders of wood particles for decades, and companies have been able to consistently improve the properties of their wood panels and products using them.

Many new resin systems have been explored as potential substitutes, since a small percentage of people are adversely affected by formaldehyde emissions, and formaldehyde itself is thought to be a carcinogenic compound if a subject is exposed to it in sufficient quantities over protracted periods. (A qualification, by the way, that does not apply to wood panels and products as manufactured and used these days.) Nevertheless, EPA continues to push for a complete ban on the resins, companies continue to push back in the name of common sense ... and scientists continue to look for alternatives that will satisfy all.

One such professor, Dr. Andrew Abbott of the University of Leicester in England, has the latest entrant in the formaldehyde-displacement race. His solution? A resin system comprised of, among other things, starch of the common potato. Sounds appetizing...

Since I was once in this area of research myself, and have experienced the operational challenges of making an alternative binder system economically competitive with formaldehyde-based binders, I recognize that the key to Dr. Abbott's innovation lies in the coming challenge of commercialization, which he acknowledges near the end of the accompanying video below. Nevertheless, I wish him and his team well and hope that they have, at last, discovered a game-changing binder that makes the world an even better place in which to live.

The potato ... what isn't it good for?

 

About the Author

Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations

Chuck Ray

Dr. Charles D. “Chuck” Ray is Associate Professor of Wood Operations Research at Pennsylvania State University. His specialty is in the area of operations research, specifically those operational issues that confront the majority of the wood products sector. He previously spent 15 years in research and quality management for two large building products corporations, Temple-Inland Forest Products and Louisiana-Pacific. Ray is the sixth generation of his family to work in the sawmill industry, the Ray Brothers Lumber Company, established in East Texas before the turn of the last century. He can be reached at cdrpsu@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @ChuckDRay. He maintains an Extension website for Penn State at http://extension.psu.edu/woodpro and also writes a blog on all wood issues called Go Wood which can be found at http://gowood.blogspot.com.

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