Sustainability has become a key driver for the adhesives industry. Once considered a “nice to have” feature, sustainability is increasingly valued by both adhesive producers and end users. In addition, regulations calling for safer, cleaner materials, especially in Europe, are driving the demand for more environmentally friendly products.
The adhesives manufacturing industry is expected to grow in the next five years, thanks to increasing demand from the downstream markets, according to a market research report by IBISWorld.1 Consumers are becoming more informed about where and how their products are made, and they increasingly include sustainability as part of their criteria for purchasing. According to an international study by Unilever, one-third of consumers (about 33%) are choosing to buy from brands based on their social and environmental impact.2 As adhesives are used in a range of everyday materials, consumer demand will continue to elevate the need for sustainable products. Companies that can meet these expectations will cement their leadership position within the industry as the supplier of choice.
With shifting consumer preferences and increased awareness of quality and safety in consumer products, the growing desire for greater material purity and sustainability is expected. Europe, for one, has emphasized the importance of sustainable products by promoting the development of bio-based products. The bio-based certification scheme is based on the European standard EN 16785-1, which allows for independent assessment of claims on a product’s bio-based content. Companies that achieve this product certification are able to differentiate in the crowded adhesives industry as bio-based products gain interest in the global market. Suppliers can use this certificate and label to demonstrate that they comply with the necessary requirements.
While using bio-based materials helps adhesives formulators achieve aspects of sustainability, suppliers must also deliver enhanced functionality, which is key to addressing market needs. Adhesive producers are constantly looking to meet the future market desire for lighter, cleaner, safer products. High-performance tackifier solutions are important components that enable customization of adhesive formulations to help producers meet various challenges, from difficult-to-bond substrates to increasing process speeds and alternative functionalities.
Raw materials suppliers must continually develop new ingredients that can deliver on those criteria through innovative, high-performance materials and manufacturing processes that optimize product stability, consistency, and quality. With demonstrated performance benefits, opportunities exist for adhesive producers to leverage bio-based materials to reach sustainability goals.
In addition to improving performance benefits, enhancing quality to ensure product safety for a range of applications is becoming more important as regulations become more stringent. The European market also has demanding requirements for food contact approval, making this a challenge for formulators that process food packaging materials as well as other consumer products. Therefore, solutions that meet stringent food regulations while also being versatile enough to be used in other applications can expect increased demand.
An example* is a bio-based raw material made from crude tall oil (CTO), a byproduct of Kraft pulping of pine trees that has been used in the label and tape market. Specifically designed to formulate water-based pressure-sensitive adhesives, part of this tackifier portfolio is considered safe for use in food packaging while also offering the high adhesion and shear strength required for other types of applications.
Bio-based materials, such as rosin esters, deliver excellent adhesion to a range of substrates due to their polarity and polymer compatibility. Low molecular weight and narrow molecular weight distribution—combined with a cycloaliphatic and aromatic structure—make bio-based rosin esters some of the most broadly compatible of all adhesive tackifiers. Rosin ester is a major component used in hot-melt adhesive formulations. When combined with various polymers to formulate hot melts, it enables a fast production process due to fast setting speed, which is important for many applications. However, the rosin ester’s structure makes it more sensitive to higher temperatures.
One goal for rosin esters is to improve viscosity and color stability, which will enable ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)-based hot-melt adhesives to deliver better thermal stability without charring. This will, in turn, help to maintain processability over time, reduce production downtime and improve processing efficiency. In addition to thermal stability, the initial color can be reduced to meet certain applications that require very light color.
A technical program has been launched to develop a next-generation rosin ester with water-white color to provide adhesive formulators with a new choice of bio-based tackifier. By combining excellent bonding strength, water-white color, and high stability, formulators can use hot-melt adhesives to develop products for high clarity and transparency applications as required, such as labels with a non-label look and assembly adhesives.
Delivering Sustainable Innovation
The adhesives industry is evolving, which is helping to increase sustainability. To remain competitive, suppliers must deliver innovations that enable formulators to develop products that satisfy consumer demand for enhanced safety, performance and sustainability—both at the product and operation level and throughout the value chain. Therefore, raw materials suppliers will play an increasingly important role in making sure all stakeholders’ goals are met. ASI
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1. “Adhesive Manufacturing in the US: Market Research Report,” May 2017, www.ibisworld.com/industry-trends/market-research-reports/manufacturing/chemical/adhesive-manufacturing.html.
2. “Report Shows a Third of Consumers Prefer Sustainable Brands,” www.unilever.com/news/Press-releases/2017/report-shows-a-third-of-consumers-prefer-sustainable-brands.html.