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?
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