Making Stickier, Safer Glues From Food

Field Inspired

A group of scientists at Purdue University has taken inspiration from the field, kitchen and the ocean to create strong glues. Credit: Purdue University

You cannot make glue out of a ham sandwich – but you may be able to use the components of that food to create a strong adhesive.

That’s the thinking behind technology developed by a group of scientists at Purdue University, who have taken inspiration from the kitchen and the ocean to create strong glues. The team’s work is published in the October 8, 2019, edition of Advanced Sustainable Systems.

“Adhesives are used in almost every consumer product that we touch each day,” said Gudrun Schmidt, an associate professor of practice in Purdue’s College of Science, who helped lead the research team. “We would love to leave this planet a better place for the future generations. It turns out creating new adhesives is one way that we will get there.”

Purdue University Strong Adhesives

Purdue University scientists have used food components to create high-performance, tunable adhesives that are nontoxic and degradable. Credit: Gudrun Schmidt/Purdue University

Schmidt said almost all of the glues used in electronics and other consumer products are petroleum-derived, permanent and often toxic. The Purdue team chose compounds in foods, like nuts, fruits, and plants, all of which might have similar chemistry to the adhesives seen in shellfish that stick to rocks.

The team included Jonathan Wilker, a Purdue professor of chemistry and materials engineering, who studies mussels and oysters to create adhesives based on how those shellfish stick to rocks.

“We have created high-performance, tunable adhesives that are nontoxic and degradable,” Schmidt said. “We found that some combinations of zein protein and tannic acid could be reacted together in order to generate high-performance adhesives that could be alternatives to carcinogenic formaldehyde used in the glues that hold lots of furniture and other household items together. It would be a big health benefit if we could switch over to bio-based or even food-based adhesives.”

Schmidt said other potential applications for the adhesives include cardboard packaging, cosmetics and construction materials like plywood.

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Reference: “Strong Adhesives from Corn Protein and Tannic Acid” by Gudrun Schmidt, Jessyca T. Woods, Lawrence X.‐B. Fung, Christopher J. Gilpin, Bruce R. Hamaker and Jonathan J. Wilker, 8 October 2019, Advanced Sustainable Systems.
DOI: 10.1002/adsu.201900077

The researchers have worked on patenting their technologies with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. Ongoing efforts include potential development of a startup company based upon these new adhesives.

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