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CORVALLIS, Ore. – Chemical engineering researchers at Oregon State University have developed a vegetable-oil-based adhesive that could provide an eco-friendly option in making items such as sticky notes, postage stamps and bandages.  

The potential environmental and financial implications are huge as pressure-sensitive adhesives, often abbreviated as PSAs, represent a multibillion-dollar global business currently occupied predominantly by adhesives made from petrochemicals. They are widely used in the manufacturing of shipping labels and packaging tape required in the vast online retailing sector of the world economy.

“Our novel PSAs are the only vegetable-oil-based, biodegradable and commercially viable PSAs in the world,” said OSU chemical engineering professor Kaichang Li, who developed the adhesives with postdoctoral research associate Anlong Li. “Biodegradable PSAs can alleviate the pollution of solid waste. The processes of producing and using petrochemical-based PSAs are time consuming and energy consuming and may require the use of organic solvents. Our PSAs use renewable materials, and manufacturing processes are simple and fast, as well as requiring much less energy than petrochemical-based PSAs.”

The new adhesives can be cured under ultraviolet light in one second, making the cost of producing tapes and labels competitive with existing production processes.

Li’s team developed the new PSAs to meet the stringent needs of a Portland company whose clients include firms from the semiconductor industry. Oregon State has filed a provisional patent for the adhesive formulations and curing process.

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“We hope to identify multiple licensees that will develop and commercialize PSAs based on the novel formulations,” said Joe Christison, senior intellectual property and licensing manager in OSU’s Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development.

Kaichang Li has been researching adhesives derived from plant oils for more than a decade.

In 2017, he won a Golden Goose Award presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his work on a soybean-based adhesive used in hardwood plywood manufacturing. It was inspired by the extreme rock-holding power of mussels.

Ten years earlier, Li was recognized with a 2007 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for inventing a non-toxic adhesive for wood composite panels. Bestowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the award honors innovators who have helped reduce waste or toxins in manufacturing processes.

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