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Four Ways Adhesive Materials Support UN Sustainability Goals

Richard Kennedy – Dec 10, 2021

Sustainable Development Goals Back in September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet for now and the future, based on the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’.

At the heart of this Agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many of which focus on treating all people equally, without discrimination and with equal opportunities. However, there is also strong sustainability and health, safety & environment theme in the SDGs that resonates strongly with developments in the adhesives industry.

  • GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
  • GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • GOAL 13: Climate Action

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) That Resonate with Adhesives Industry
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) That Resonate with Adhesives Industry

Society’s concerns about climate change have heightened significantly since the signing of the Paris Agreement at the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference in December 2015. The central aim of the Paris Agreement was to encourage a global response to climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the rise to less than 1.5°C.

Clearly, the fight to prevent climate change involves significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which in turn means moving away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels and towards renewable and clean energy sources. A number of prominent raw material suppliers and adhesive companies have already set in place targets to become net-zero greenhouse gas emitters.

Apart from the need to employ renewable energy for manufacturing processes, there are a number of other consequences for the adhesives and sealants industry including the need for:

  • More energy-efficient manufacturing processes, and
  • Materials with bio-renewable content.

There is a drive towards a circular economy, which emphasizes the use of renewable materials but also waste recycling.

So, it’s time to aim for a better and more sustainable future for all.
Let’s do our part!
In this article, you will learn about 4 key areas on how adhesive materials can support and contribute to UN-SDGs.



Increasing Bio-renewable Content in Adhesives Raw Materials


In a climate-friendly world, all organic components of adhesives should ideally be derived from bio-renewable materials and not from fossil fuels. In recent years, the development of eco-friendly solvents, adhesive additives and resins with increasing bio-content has accelerated. This is the result of significant investment in biotechnology over the last decade, where biomass is converted into biobased products that can be used as a direct replacement for, or as an alternative to, chemicals derived from fossil fuels. Biobased mono- and multifunctional alcohols and acids are increasingly incorporated into commercial adhesive resins to raise resin bio-content.

A number of bio-based raw materials as well as low toxicity bio-solvents have entered the market either as direct replacements for non-sustainable materials, such as bio-acetone or bio-ethanol, or as targeted replacements for more harmful solvents, such as dimethylformamide or N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone. Most of these green solvents are made from sugar, corn or beet, and do not release toxic by-products or volatile organic compounds during manufacturing. Some companies now supply blends of bio-solvents in order to provide a solvent closely matching the characteristics and performance of petrochemical-based solvents in terms of solvation and wetting, evaporation rate, flashpoint, or solution viscosity.

Other products with bio-renewable content being developed for adhesives include specialty biobased monomers and resins, biobased waxes (including renewably-sourced polyethylene wax), surfactants, defoamers, silicone release agents, organic pigments and dyes, epoxy curing agents, and plasticizers.


The nature of the adhesive used on the packaging, such as the use of biobased materials and avoidance of heavy metals, is an important factor for the biodegradability, compostability, or recyclability of the packaging.

Flexible Packaging Adhesives


Here are some of the examples of bio-based raw materials that made headlines in 2021:

  1. SARTOMER developed the SARBIO® product line to uphold a high standard for sustainable development. These specialty resins are designed to achieve responsible solutions for high-level performance energy or thermal curing systems and polymer synthesis.
  2. Braskem develops polyethylene (PE) wax made from sugarcane ethanol. The PE wax is intended to produce adhesives, cosmetics, paints and compounds used in the transformation of thermoplastic resins.
  3. UBE’s glycerine carbonate has earned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified bio-based product label, for being able to display a unique USDA label that highlights its percentage of bio-based content.
  4. Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics launches AFFINITY™ RE, a high-performance bio-based polyolefin elastomer range (POE) for hot-melt adhesives. This solution has enabled Dow customer Henkel’s Technomelt SUPRA ECO line to achieve another milestone in both companies’ sustainability goals.


Reducing Energy Usage in Manufacturing or Application


A growing feature in the adhesives industry is to improve material efficiency and to reduce energy usage in manufacturing or application processes. Key examples are LED lamps for radiation curing and the development of adhesives to reduce energy consumption particularly in automotive and building & construction industries.

Probably the most important driver for the development of radiation curing systems was the speed of cure and the increased productivity, but the emergence of LED lamps has provided an opportunity to move away from mercury arc lamps, significantly reduce energy usage and increase lamp lifetimes. However, the spectral output of LED lamps in the near-UV/visible region and oxygen inhibition issues have led to developments in photoinitiator systems, monomers and oligomers.

There has been considerable interest in the development of environmentally-responsible solutions for the future cars and buildings. Adhesive bonding is one of beneficial factors in car production since it helps to reduce the vehicle’s weight, and thus also the CO2 emission of the finished car. There have been several innovative developments in adhesives raw materials, such as solutions for structural and multi-substrate bonding, efficient thermal management for EVs battery packs, etc. Adhesive formulations are being increasing fine-tuned to meet production targets while integrating sustainability practices.

Development of Environmentally-responsible Solutions to Reduce Weight, Carbon Dioxide Emissions & Energy Consumption in Future Cars and Buildings
Development of Environmentally-responsible Solutions to Reduce Weight, Carbon Dioxide Emissions & Energy Consumption in Future Cars and Buildings

A variety of technologies are widely used in window glazing and weather sealing too, including polyurethane reactive adhesives, acrylics, hot melt urethanes, synthetic rubber membrane systems and, more recently, tapes. In recent years, the increasing demand for energy efficiency has influenced the technical development of façades and windows. Modern market requirements have led to innovative solutions that are technically superior, more cost effective and facilitate ‘greener’ buildings with a low carbon footprint.

The advances in new thermoset hotmelts, structural tapes, and multi-purpose adhesives, etc. are significantly contributing to improve insulation performance and dramatically cut building energy consumption.

Download Techical Paper: Innovative low odor/low VOC polymer & tackifier solutions for automotive adhesive formulation »


Replacement of Harmful Materials for Increased Protection


Replacing Harmful Chemical with Less Harmful ReplacementsThe purpose of chemicals management regulations, such as REACH, TSCA and other national regulations around the world, is to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks posed by chemicals. Many of these regulations are now maturing:

  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was first signed into law in 1976 and
  • The European REACH regulations came into force in 2007.

After years of chemicals testing and assessments, the focus of these regulations is increasingly shifting towards restricting the use of the more hazardous substances and encouraging substitution and the development of less harmful replacements. So clearly this is not a new theme for the adhesives industry.

There were concerns about the use of harmful solvents, such as toluene, hexane, methylene chloride, etc. in formulating adhesives. These solvents are classified as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and long-term exposure to these solvents can impair central nervous system and cause cancer. Greener and safer solvents or high-performing raw materials for water-based adhesives continue to be developed and launched to support the replacement of toxic solvents.

In more recent years, there have been health concerns raised over, for example, unreacted N=C=O groups, which are called isocyanate groups in uncured PU sealants and adhesives. These groups are very reactive, and in various forms are very harmful to humans who get the sealant on their skin, or inhale some of the vapors, prompting development of a range of replacement products. New hybrid chemistries have been developed, such as silane modified polymers (SMPs) which deliver the strength of polyurethanes with the weathering resistance of silicones.

Download Case Study: Learn how to formulate SMP based adhesives with low VOC »


Improving the Performance of Low-VOC Adhesives


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were identified as a health concern decades ago for their role in helping to produce ozone in the troposphere via photochemical reactions. Although there are a number of natural sources of VOCs, adhesives can be considered as a notable source of VOCs, particularly in cities, and in a number of countries VOC emission regulations have been put in place to restrict VOC content in adhesives and to limit VOC emissions from factory sites.

  • In the US, VOCs are legally defined in the various laws and codes under which they are regulated, and different regulations exist in each state. Definitions now include hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and VOC-exempt solvents.
  • In the EU, VOC is any organic compound having an initial boiling point less than or equal to 250°C and that can damage human senses.

Improving the Performance of Adhesives by Using Low VOC or VOC-free Options
Improving the Performance of Adhesives by Using Low VOC or VOC-free Options

Ever since the first regulations restricting VOC emissions there has been a drive to replace conventional solventborne adhesives with the most appropriate low-VOC option (whether that is waterborne, high solids/solventless or hot-melt) and this has been supported by the development of products that have been specifically designed to improve the performance of low-VOC adhesives or diminish their problem areas.

In the waterborne arena, this has led to low-VOC or VOC-free wetting, dispersing and defoaming agents; and easy-to-use low-VOC additives that improve bond strength, adhesion, cohesion, thermal stability, etc. There is an ever-increasing range of dispersing and wetting solutions; novel polyurethane dispersions (PUDs) and rheology modifiers for improved stability in aqueous systems.



The Way Forward


The adhesives and sealants industry and its supply chain have considerable experience at developing products that reduce the impact of adhesives on health and the environment, and no doubt more will be asked of the adhesives industry in the future. Future products will likely become increasingly dependent on developments in the biotechnology sphere.

There are many companies and research consortia around the world now developing innovative biobased raw materials and products that may have value in adhesives as well as coatings and inks. However, the development of new biobased materials faces a number of barriers including finding financial support:

  • For fundamental research, applied research and 
  • Then for piloting, demonstration and commercial scale-up.

Probably there also needs to be more policy-based market pull to overcome these barriers.


Innovative Bio-based Raw Materials for Adhesives


View a wide range of bio-based materials available in the market today, analyze technical data of each product, get technical assistance or request samples.



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