Soybean Innovation in Wood Product Manufacturing

Auburn University Regions Professor of Forest Products Brian Via holds a piece of orient strand board, or OSB, a material commonly used in the manufacturing of indoor furniture. Via leads a research team that has obtained a patent to allow for the practical application of soy flour, a more cost effective and ecofriendly alternative, to replace petroleum-based adhesives traditionally utilized to manufacture particleboard.

The soybean is a widely edible bean with numerous food uses, from soy milk to soy sauce. For people with allergies, it often is used as a dairy substitute. And fat-free soybean meal is a cheap source of protein for animal feeds and packaged meals.

But soy’s newest use, say Auburn researchers, lies outside of nutrition.

Soy flour could be used as an adhesive, replacing petroleum-based adhesives traditionally utilized to manufacture wood components in particleboard, says Brian Via, a professor at the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

The soy-based adhesive would provide a more cost-effective and ecofriendly alternative to petroleum-based products, as well as lowering the amount of formaldehyde released to form formaldehyde-based adhesives, says Via.

Via, who recently obtained a patent for this product, worked on the research with William Head, research and development manager at Georgia-Pacific, and Sujit Banerjee, professor emeritus at the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

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The glue used in manufacturing wood components comprises a large portion of the manufacturing price, so substituting a less expensive component such as soy flour could significantly reduce the product’s cost.

Soy flour-based adhesives have been tried before and been found lacking, with the soy thickening too quickly for wood component manufacturing. Via and his team found that heating the soy-adhesive mixture prior to application resulted in an adequate replacement for the petroleum-based adhesives.

The United Soybean Board sponsored the research that helped collect the data for the patent, which was filed in March 2016 and issued in April 2019.

The new patent could result in a shift in the wood manufacturing sector, says Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Dean Janaki Alavalapati. “It has the potential to cut manufacturing costs, improve air quality and boost the region’s soybean industry. It is a breakthrough that provides major improvements on multiple fronts.”

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