Bonding breakthrough: the new life of lignin

17 January 2018

WISA BioBond marks the beginning of a new era in plywood production. While maintaining the excellent characteristics of WISA plywood products, UPM Plywood’s bonding innovation largely replaces oil-based phenol with environmentally sustainable lignin.

Lignin, the bonding material in wood fibres, is a residue of pulp production. UPM is constantly developing new, innovative uses for lignin, one being its use as a component in adhesives.
Relentless R&D efforts have now paid off. In the autumn, UPM Plywood launched its new WISA BioBond bonding technology in plywood production.

Oil-based phenol is used in traditional plywood adhesives. Thanks to UPM’s innovation, phenol can now be replaced to a significant degree with environmentally sustainable lignin.
The development of lignin-based bonding technology has been a long-term goal for the company.

“This technological breakthrough is the most significant innovation in plywood bonding in five decades,” says Susanna Rinne, Vice President, Business Development at UPM Plywood.

World first in plywood adhesives

WISA BioBond is the perfect example of UPM’s Biofore strategy in action. One of the company’s main strategic goals is to utilise renewable raw materials in an innovative, effective and sustainable way.

“Lignin is generated as a by-product in the pulp manufacturing process, and up to now it has been incinerated for energy production. Now the same raw material is being refined into a high-quality product that can replace fossil raw materials,” Rinne explains.

Lignin can replace 50% of the phenol used in the bonding of plywood. UPM’s goal is to increase the amount to close to 100% in the coming years.

“Here, UPM is a forerunner. Previously, there haven’t been any plywood products on the market using a lignin-based adhesive to this extent.”

UPM Plywood plans to gradually adopt the new bonding technology at all of its production facilities.

Same strength, same quality

The characteristics of the plywood produced using the new bonding technology are similar to the products produced using traditional methods.

“Using lignin doesn’t affect the characteristics of the plywood product. The new bonding technology marks no practical change for end users, and they don’t need to modify their processes in any way,” Rinne says.

UPM Plywood produces high-quality WISA plywood and veneer products for mainly construction and transport industries.

“As the rollout of the technology advances, our customers will get a chance to benefit from the environmentally sustainable features of WISA BioBond in their business,” Rinne says.

New lignin solutions being explored

The development of WISA BioBond has involved many different business areas within UPM. The bonding technology is based on the UPM BioPiva lignin technology, which was developed and patented by UPM Biochemicals.

UPM Biochemicals develops sustainable and competitive wood-based biochemicals for a variety of industrial uses.

“We have utilised UPM’s wide-ranging know-how in the development of WISA BioBond. This involves many areas of expertise, including chemistry, materials and industrial production,” says Juuso Konttinen, Vice President of UPM Biochemicals.

R&D at UPM Biochemicals utilises the natural characteristics of lignin, and the material is being developed for various applications. Lignin is a natural polymer with features similar to an adhesive.
“In addition to adhesives and resins, we are also researching the use of lignin in biocomposites, for example. Innovations such as the production of carbon fibre could be one of the potential applications for lignin in the long run,” explains Konttinen.

For more information on lignin adhesives, visit www.wisabiobond.com.

Matti Remes

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