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Yeast becomes bio-based glue

Completely normal baker’s yeast possesses properties that make it suitable as a wood glue. This is the conclusion of researchers at RISE.

Stig Bardage, a senior researcher at RISE, offers a good example of the fact that you can never tell where a given expertise might have an effect.

“I am a microbiologist by trade, so I’m well aware that microorganisms such as yeast can become sticky and bind things together.”

Demand for strong adhesives

Researchers around the world have been looking at ways to produce strong adhesives for many years. In its capacity as a research institute, much of the research carried out at RISE is closely related to application and commercialisation.

“While it is common in the groves of academe to come across adhesives that are admittedly strong and effective, they have no idea how to produce these on an industrial scale, or at a reasonable cost. Here at RISE, we are accustomed to working across the value chain and can develop innovations that actually work,” says Stig Bardage.

Going into this project, it was therefore natural to study a type of yeast that is in plentiful supply – on the shelves of every supermarket.

“So, yes, our first port of call to purchase yeast was the local store,” explains Stig Bardage.

The work has received attention

Since then, Stig – together with colleague and wood adhesives expert Magdalena Sterley – has tested the properties of the glue and studied possible areas of use.

Their work has received a great deal of attention in its own niche field.

“When I discuss this at conferences, many people show a genuine interest,” says Stig Bardage. “This is something new.”

The challenge now is to further the work by finding a partner who is willing to commercialise it or create a niche product in the form of completely natural adhesive.

Bio-based glue with equal qualities

While the idea of replacing traditional formaldehyde-based glues with bio-based alternatives is enticing, it does present a challenge. It would need to be possible to produce any new bio-based adhesive in large quantities, as well as at a similar cost. Stig does however believe that this is possible.

“In principle, it is possible to ferment almost anything containing carbohydrates in order to produce fungal biomass, so the possibilities for large-scale production and recycling are good. For example, a waste product from today's bioethanol factories can be used to extract biomass. We have already tested yeast from a biorefinery, which is currently regarded as pure waste. This yeast demonstrates better adhesive properties than baker’s yeast, suggesting that a glue product could be ready for commercialisation sooner rather than later, provided we find the right partner."