An innovative new bio-based adhesive designed for engineered wood products has won the Armourers Venture Prize Award. The adhesive is derived from purified and refined industrial bio-waste and should enable 90% of engineered wood products, such as furniture and construction boards, to become fully recyclable, contributing to a more circular economy in the sector. 

BindEthics, a sustainable glue company behind the innovation, received the Venture Prize. The company was founded by Maria Garcia, a chemist with a masters in science in Molecular Design from the University of Amsterdam, and Callum Smith a 21-year-old materials engineer who is completing an integrated Masters in Material Science and Engineering at the University of Birmingham. 

Formaldehyde adhesives currently used by manufacturers are toxic petrochemicals and carcinogenic in nature. This prevents recycling and incineration so most engineered wood ends up in landfills. The new adhesive, derived from extracted and purified waste is sustainable, non-toxic, and a significant improvement for recyclability and circularity.

“Our glue is ethically sourced, has end-of-life biodegradability and has properties suited to replacing traditional formaldehyde adhesives,” said Smith. “As well as being fully recyclable the glue can be produced with almost no additional cost to the manufacturer and has a carbon footprint that is 86% lower than traditional adhesives.”

BindEthics first explored the possibility of a base formulation for its adhesive derived entirely from waste in 2021. This included the purification of industrial food waste by washing, filtration, and centrifugation. High protein content and polysaccharides contribute to binding while other natural crosslinkers and bio-derived solvents are present in the formulation. In 2022, preliminary trials conducted at the Biorenewables Development Centre in York were backed up by analytical experimental studies enabling the development of the first minimum viable product. 

BindEthics is currently working with one of the three largest engineered wood companies in the UK and one of the UK’s largest packaging companies for technical insight. The company has several Letters of Intent from relevant partners including a European distributor.

“Our next step is to identify and conduct further commercial trials with companies which are currently using toxic and synthetic adhesives,” said Smith. “A particular opportunity is with the corrugated board industry, which is looking for alternatives to their starch-based adhesives which use borates – toxic substances imported into the UK. We are currently identifying companies using these starch-based adhesives who wish to minimize their environmental impact so they can trial our product.”

BindEthics has received commercial, scale-up, and lab-based support from the Biorenewables Development Centre in York under their European Regional Development Programme business assist scheme and Innovate UK. Additionally, it is receiving network access, business space, and financial aid from the University of Birmingham and Innovate UK, which helped accelerate the innovation.

The particle board industry in the UK alone currently uses 1,000 tons per day of urea-formaldehyde adhesive valued at £388 million annually. Globally, the value of the urea-formaldehyde market is £9.5 billion. 

“BindEthics is showing how research and innovation has the potential to improve the recyclability of modern furniture and construction panels,” said Julian Beare, chairman of the Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel. “Our prize looks to encourage scientific entrepreneurship in the UK and provide funding to help innovative developments like this realize their potential.” 

“Our vision is that our new bio-adhesive derived from food waste will replace a range of adhesives used across industry,” said Smith. “The initial focus is on replacing the formaldehyde-based glues used in the manufacture of engineered wood products, but we also envisage applications for our sustainable adhesive within the shoe and automotive industries.”

The Armourers and Brasiers’ Co. is a leading supporter of materials science education and research in the UK. Its Venture Prize is aimed at helping scientists commercialize early-stage research of new and innovative ideas.

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