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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > New Products and Materials > Seal of approval for safer adhesives
Graphic element Seal of approval for safer adhesives
European developers have been making major strides in the important field of adhesives. Partners in a Brite-EUram project combined their expertise to produce new high-performance, non-hazardous adhesives for a wide variety of applications. In so doing, they significantly strengthened Europe's position in this highly competitive field - no one else in Europe, Japan or the US can boast products and manufacturing processes as environmentally friendly as those developed under this project. Most of the initial benefits in terms of cost savings and increased sales revenues are now being enjoyed by SMEs, both as producers and end-users.

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 damaging.
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 systems.

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 and stability.
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.

Cordis RCN: 6243
More information (Cordis database)
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