Adhesives are ubiquitous in modern industry
and are among the most important of all materials used in production
and transformation. Unfortunately, the most commonly used and effective
adhesives tend to be both hazardous to human health and environmentally
The objective of this project, which ran from 1993 to 1997, was
to develop improved-performance reactive adhesives which would be
safer and more environmentally neutral than solvent-based adhesive
Setting their sights high
This was an applied research project involving
two industrial SMEs, Jowat, Lobers and Frank GmbH of Detmold, Germany,
and Evode Ltd out of Staffordshire, UK, both manufacturers of industrial
adhesives. Two academic partners, the Chemistry Department of the
Universität Bielefeld and the University of Manchester's Institute
of Science and Technology added strong fundamental research. Particular
emphasis was placed on developments for those markets in which the
two SMEs were active, including the automotive sector. The end results
were even better than even the partners themselves could have envisaged,
with the development of several interesting and important innovations.
Range of new products
First, a virtually non-flammable adhesive type
was developed - dubbed 'Super High Solids' because of its very high
solid content - for use in applications such as upholstery and mattress
production, representing a safe substitute for toxic chlorinated
hydrocarbon-based adhesives. The extremely high solid content, mostly
in the form of renewable natural resins, drastically reduces the
required space for packaging and transportation and allows users
to comply easily with European regulations defining maximum substance
concentrations in the workplace.
Secondly, a new manufacturing process which eliminates the need
for dangerous additives was developed for the production of water-borne
adhesives. This technique involves the emulsification of specially
formulated adhesives in water, followed by solvent removal. Again,
the production technology is completely novel and entails appreciable
savings in materials and energy. The contact adhesives produced
using this innovative approach possess excellent application characteristics
Finally, low-toxicity adhesives based on the peroxide curing of
liquid rubbers for metal-to-metal bonding were developed. They were
formulated to provide good bond strengths after curing at 130°
C and 150° C, temperatures which are lower than those previously
necessary with traditional sulphur cured systems. In the European
automotive industry in particular, alternatives to conventional
adhesives of this type have long been highly sought after.
Getting down to business
The new adhesives can be used in the production
of a broad range of consumer products used in homes and offices,
at school and in their vehicles. Applications include car upholstery
and body assembly, packaging and other paper products, footwear
and a range of leather goods, wooden furniture and DIY products.
These new adhesives contain vastly reduced amounts of hydrocarbons
and are immeasurably safer than traditional solvent-based adhesives,
both for the environment and for human health. Their development
was, as the partners describe it, a real breakthrough, setting this
project at the forefront of technological innovation, and going
a long way to keeping Europe ahead of its competitors in this sector.
Although initially conceived as a basic research project not expected
to make an immediate impact on the commercial market, exploitation
of some of the results began even before the R&D phase had been
completed. Further market launches were undertaken immediately after
the project was completed and have continued since. In addition,
the recent banning in the US of methylene chloride-based adhesives
will open up a vast new market in the upholstery industry.
The new adhesives have already generated millions of euros in sales,
and estimates see total profits in the order of 33 million euro
by the end of 2002, not including additional application launches.
Indirect gains will come from cost savings in production, storage
and transportation, particularly by producer SMEs.