Bio-based glue cuts IKEA climate footprint

IKEA uses wood more than any other material, and most of the wood used is composite that is kept together by glue, which like all materials have an impact on climate change. The glue used globally is synthetic, produced from fossil raw materials – and almost all boards are produced with that glue.

The most significant impact on its climate footprint comes from materials used in production. Among these, wood-based materials have the most impact compared to other materials.

One key impact area is the use of fossil-based glue in manufacturing boards produced by bonding wood particles that contributes to 5% of its total green-house gas emissions. The company is now introducing a new, bio-based glue that can help reduce the climate footprint.

The research that went into finding a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative was driven by Ms Venla Hemmilä, Material & Technology Engineer for Adhesives, and Mr Andreas Rangel Ahrens, Head of Climate at IKEA.

Today, almost 90% of the glue used by the company goes into making particle boards and fibre boards, which are then used to create iconic products like Pax, Metod, Billy, Kallax and Hemnes.

About 5% of its total climate footprint comes from fossil-based glue, making glue a significant impact material. To limit the impact, the company is exploring scalable bio-based alternatives with a lower climate footprint.

Many challenges

However, the journey towards finding a more sustainable glue solution was not without its challenges. Venla and the team faced several hurdles, not the least of which was the need to adhere to the five dimensions of democratic design: function, form, quality, sustainability and low price.

“It’s not unheard of to produce boards with bio-based glues, but they are expensive. The challenge was finding alternatives at a reasonable price and with the required quality. Then we needed to prove that they actually work and convince an industry that’s been using traditional glue that this is something we can produce with,” says Venla.

It was a journey that lasted for about 10 years. The team spent countless hours searching the available products, following up the experiments with different plant-based materials, and testing the quality of each alternative on the boards until they finally selected a glue that was found to be a perfect alternative for conventional adhesives.

Better sustainability

The new bio-based glue increases the sustainability profile of board products. Most particleboards and fibreboards consist of 90% wood, with the remaining 10% being the glue that holds the particles together.

IKEA aims to reduce the climate footprint of glues by 30% by 2030 by converting to better alternatives.

The first bio-based glue used in large-scale production is starch-based and made from non-food-grade corn. This corn is not suitable for human food and is high in starch content.

By combining the starch-based component with a synthetic cross-linker, IKEA can use significantly less resin, which is then replaced with natural wood particles, thereby increasing the amount of renewable material in the boards.

“We started with the first factory in Kazlu Ruda (Lithuania) last year. At the same time, we are doing a factory-scale trial on other factories with other bio-based glue systems as well,” says Venla.

“At IKEA, we are committed to doing our part to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Thus, we need to drastically reduce green-house gas emissions, which means we need to half it by 2030 and reduce it as close to zero as possible by the latest 2050,” Andreas adds.

In the journey to end the dependence on virgin fossil materials and fuels, they knew that bio-based glue was just one small step, but it was a step in the right direction.



Comment here