‘Sustainable Gluing with Renewable Adhesives’ research project

Packaging is an integral part of our modern society but also impacts the environment. Paper-based packaging is one of the most commonly used types, which relies on renewable raw materials. However, auxiliary substances like adhesives are mostly made from Petro-based materials. The SUGRA (Sustainable Gluing with Renewable Adhesives) research project aims to develop sustainable gluing practices by exploring the potential of bio-based adhesives to enhance the sustainability of paper-based packaging. The intermittent results of the SUGRA project will be presented at drupa 2024.

Sustainability and circularity have become critical factors in the packaging industry, providing competitive advantages and impacting company survivability. Paper-based packaging, which already relies on renewable raw materials, must also consider auxiliary substances such as adhesives when assessing sustainability.

As most economies worldwide are heavily dependent on fossil resources, the production of various chemicals and materials used in packaging is intrinsically linked to them. However, the escalating environmental concerns and the imperative to curb our reliance on petroleum-based products are driving a significant shift. This shift involves the synthesis of polymeric materials from bio-based resources, a crucial step towards a more sustainable future. The SUGRA project is a timely response to this urgent need, offering a potential solution to the depletion of fossil fuels and the escalating concerns about global warming and its adverse effects on the environment and human health.

The emergence of the bioeconomy, which involves the production of chemicals from renewable sources, is gaining traction as a viable alternative to petrochemical options. Adhesives, often a minor component of paper-based packaging, play a significant role in enhancing the sustainability of these products. They contribute to the efficiency of production processes and enable lightweight packaging design. This, in turn, reduces substrate usage, aligning with the requirements of PPWR.

However, there are increasing demands for sustainable adhesives. To mitigate CO2 emissions and global warming, transitioning from fossil carbon to renewable carbon in industries like chemicals is essential, recognising the intrinsic value of using renewable over fossil carbon. Bio-based adhesives represent a promising addition to traditional dispersion-based adhesives, potentially enhancing the environmental impact of paper-based packaging. Yet, many bio-based adhesives and conversion technologies are still in experimental or pilot phases, posing significant challenges to their industrial-scale implementation and adding uncertainties in decision-making.

Comparative LCAs of emerging bio-based products versus their fossil-based equivalents show significant potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the bio-economy.

Nonetheless, the variability in these benefits and the inability of bio-based products to achieve net-zero emissions necessitate nuanced evaluations in designing sustainable bio-based products. Starch, a natural and abundant polysaccharide derived from various sources like corn, wheat, tapioca, and potatoes, is increasingly used in industrial applications, including paper production. Starch also has a low impact on recycling paper-based packaging. However, bio-based does not mean that there is no impact on the environment. Despite its advantages, the extensive use of starch could potentially lead to food competition. Moreover, the CO2 footprints of starch sources vary significantly, with potatoes presenting the lowest emissions.

The SUGRA research project, funded by the Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V. (FKZ 2220NR168) and led by Baumer hhs, aims to develop adhesives suitable for high-speed packaging manufacturing. This project focuses on optimising bio-based adhesives and their application techniques to swiftly achieve high technological maturity.

This ongoing research will be presented at drupa on June 3, 2024, at 13:30 h in Congresscentrum, Room 13. The CCD SÜD is located near drupa Halls 1 and 3. Presentations will be held in English.

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