Final Report: Non-Formaldehyde Biobased Phenolic Resins

EPA Contract Number: EPD12031
Title: Non-Formaldehyde Biobased Phenolic Resins
Investigators: Metrey, Daniel
Small Business: Luna Innovations Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012
Project Amount: $79,900
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Green Buildings


New products based on non-traditional and renewable feedstock need to be developed for both economic and environmental concerns. Bio-oils from biomass such as scrap wood, storm debris and even corn stover were used to create phenol substitutes useful in the epoxy and wood adhesive markets. This results in materials in which the end-user (a builder for instance) may claim additional Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits. Simply replacing phenol with bio-oil in traditional phenol/formaldehyde resins does not entirely address the environmental concerns associated with some of these products, since formaldehyde is still a key component in Novolac- or Resol-based systems, regardless of phenol source (petroleum or bio-based). The possibility then remains of formaldehyde emission, which is undesirable for indoor air quality. Luna proposed and demonstrated the use of the bio-oils in creating non-formaldehyde-based resins and thermoplastics. These polymers then were used in creating formaldehyde-free wood composites and adhesives that allow end-users to incorporate “green materials” into the building and construction industry. The polymers and resins created during this program have the potential to be 100 percent bio-based. The prospect of biomass-produced phenolic materials has shown significant value to numerous markets including plastics, adhesives and pharmaceutical industries. The market segment of biopolymer-based materials is projected to grow at 27 percent per year, making it an attractive investment opportunity.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

This program was successful in converting several types of biomass feedstocks into useable phenolic liquids. These high-quality phenols then were used to create 100 percent formaldehyde-free bio-based thermosetting polymers. Particle board specimens were prepared using these formaldehyde-free polymers and analyzed for internal bond strengths. The mechanical properties of the 100 percent bio-based and non-formaldehyde specimens were significantly lower than traditional phenol/formaldehyde specimens. A complete replacement of formaldehyde was the focus of the Phase I; however, the level of formaldehyde replacement (i.e., 100 percent to 50 percent) in these resins has a tremendous effect on the mechanical properties. These properties can be improved upon in Phase II by optimizing the reaction conditions and adjusting the formulation composition.


Renewable feedstocks, such as switch grass, pine, poplar, corn stover, etc., can be converted into high-quality phenol materials using a fractional catalytic pyrolysis process. These phenol materials can replace petroleum-derived phenols in phenol/formaldehyde resins and reduce negative environmental impacts caused by fossil fuel burning such as greenhouse gases and air emissions. These bio-based phenols were combined with a nontoxic alternative to formaldehyde to create a 100 percent bio-based formaldehyde-free resol resin. The polymers were demonstrated as suitable adhesives for the wood industry by combining them with wood flour to fabricate particle board specimens.
Commercialization efforts were successful in developing potential partnerships with more than one company in the wood adhesives market. Luna has established a working relationship with the leading supplier of wood adhesives, Georgia Pacific (GP). GP has been developing polymers with no added formaldehyde due to emerging regulations and consumer demands. GP has requested a sample of Luna’'s material for evaluation and feedback. Ashland Hercules, another leading supplier of bio-based resins, have participated in discussions and also are open to collaboration with Luna.

Supplemental Keywords:

Biomass, bio-oils, biopolymers, formaldehyde, green buildings, indoor air quality, LEED, phenolic resins, thermoplastics, SBIR, phenol substitutes