Thursday, July 08, 2010

New Pressure-Sensitive Adhesives from Tree Byproducts

Most press blurbs from academia are begging for disbelief - endless claims of never-before [1] innovations that will revolutionize industry or cancer treatments [2] and will be on the market in 2 - 5 years [3].

The challenge then is to find out what exactly is the discovery. Let me give you an example. Yesterday, Oregon State University issued one such blurb. Apparently they have discovered a new pressure-sensitive adhesive based on vegie oils. Details on the chemistry are completely lacking, undoubtedly because the legal department is trying to patent this. Hopefully there will be some publication soon as I am intrigued not by the feedstock but by the polymerization process:

"There have been previous attempts to make pressure-sensitive adhesives from vegetable oils, Li said, but they used the same type of polymerization chemistry as the acrylate-based petrochemicals now used to make tape. They didn’t cost much less or perform as well, he said.

The new approach used at OSU is based on a different type of polymerization process and produces pressure-sensitive adhesives that could be adapted for a wide range of uses, perform well, cost much less, and would be made from renewable crops such as soy beans, corn or canola oil, instead of petroleum-based polymers."

So that is the interesting part of the blurb. The rest is quite obnoxious. Consider this:

"This adhesive is incredibly simple to make, doesn’t use any organic solvents or toxic chemicals, and is based on vegetable oils that would be completely renewable, not petrochemicals. It should be about half the cost of existing technologies and appears to work just as well."

A typical cost structure for a product is the raw materials costing 25% of the final cost. Even zeroing this out will only reduce total cost by 25%, not the 50% cited.

Also consider these sentences:

"The new adhesive can be produced from a range of vegetable oils, and may find applications for duct tape, packaging tape, stick-on notes, labels, even postage stamps – almost any type of product requiring a pressure-sensitive adhesive. There are thousands of pressure-sensitive tape products, and analysts say it’s a $26 billion global industry."

Kinda gives you the impression that there is $26 billion available for the taking since they are all more or less the same adhesive, right?

Again, I am curious about the polymerization process, but will have to withhold judgement as to it's level of innovation. But why must there be so much junk in these blurbs?

[1] Meaning only if you look at the last 10 years of technical literature. Go back further or look at patents (hint: the US is not the only country to issue patents) and you find that it has been done before.
[2] Since every known cancer and all other diseases have been cured in rats, how come we don't have immortal rats? Whatever it is that is killing them, we have the cure for; why doesn't someone just go for it a keep a rat alive forever? Maybe it would show the cures have shortfalls way beyond the mere fact that they work in rats and not humans?
[3] If only there were a way to place a short on these predictions, those of us in industry could all all retire at a very young age.


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