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Bailey College of Science and Mathematics

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The Search for Biodegradable Glue!

Cal Poly chemistry research group led by Phil Costanzo Costanzo Lab research team members wearing shirts designed by third-year biochemistry student and Frost Research Scholar Taylor Vaughan (second from right). The shirts say, “The Endless Summer: In Research for the Perfect D-A.”  Photos by Izzy Kelly.

Research Team's Quest for the Perfect Diels-Alder Poised to Result in Patent.

By Nick Wilson

A Cal Poly faculty member and several students have developed, in collaboration with an East Coast company, a new adhesive that has the potential to significantly impact the amount of consumer materials that are recycled in the U.S. and worldwide.

Chemistry professor Philip Costanzo has been developing a new glue in his Cal Poly laboratory in partnership with Geisys Ventures LLC, a technology development and consulting company. Their public-private partnership is the basis for a joint commercial venture.

So far, seven students have been involved in developing the ecology-friendly product, gaining invaluable Learn by Doing experience in the process.

Cal Poly chemistry research student.

“Working with Dr. Costanzo in undergraduate research and in partnership with Geisys Ventures has been an exciting and rewarding experience in multiple ways,” said Taylor Vaughan, a biochemistry major from Ventura, California. “Seeing the positive progression of our project over the last few months has been invigorating. I have really enjoyed the hands-on learning environment and being a part of a fun group of people who also are passionate about chemistry and learning.”
Costanzo and Kristoffer Stokes, CEO of Geisys, combined their know-how in polymer science and industrial applications to generate a new type of glue. The technology began its life in Costanzo’s lab with applications in bio-based, fully recyclable coatings. Stokes recognized adhesive recycling challenges in the textile and consumer electronics markets that technology could solve.
The material is currently patent-pending, and the two entities recently formed a memorandum of understanding outlining their intent to collaborate on further development and commercialization of the product.

They created the new adhesive as an alternative to low-cost glues frequently used in consumer materials, such as clothing and electronics. Those glues tend to have bonded parts that are permanent, requiring energy-intensive recovery facilities to recycle. Thus, discarded products often end up in landfills.

Cal Poly chemistry research group led by professor Phil CostanzoCostanzo Lab research team members (clockwise from top left) include Taylor Vaughan, Phil Costanzo, Franklin Ng, Ramses Hyde, Noelle Wong, Erik Smith, Adelle Kirshner and Ryan Apel.

“The goal is to significantly impact recycling and actually enable the circular economy,” Stokes said. “The part of the circle that has been completely neglected is this disassembly part. People talk about recycling plastics or using bio-based materials, but rarely do you hear about disassembly of the item at the end of its life.”
Stokes said that adhesives that can be removed require either harmful solvents or extremely hot conditions. Many can’t readily be removed without destroying the whole item.
The aim of the Cal Poly-Geisys partnership is to manufacture and market a product that breaks down much more easily.

“This (new Cal Poly) technology will take a durable glue-bonded item, and — after treatment — make the glued parts peel apart like sticky notes,” Costanzo said. “We are currently focusing on adhesives in garments but are particularly interested in larger markets like consumer electronics.”
Stokes said that many apparel items, including rain jackets, performance athletic wear and even intimate wear, are glued at the seams.
“Often, glue holds dissimilar materials that cannot be recycled together,” he said. “By defeating the adhesive, you can break apart this composite and more readily recycle the components.”

Students are learning how polymer science can be adapted to make more eco-friendly manufacturing approaches.

Phil Costanzo, Cal Poly chemistry professor

Students will continue to be part of the technology development with Geisys.
“Students are learning how polymer science can be adapted to make more eco-friendly manufacturing approaches,” Costanzo said. “This develops their technical abilities as well as their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.”
The team used existing procedures and materials and incorporated novel chemistry linkages (a sequence of bonds that links one polymer chain to another), referred to as Diels-Alder linkages, into the product. Polymers are substances with large molecules and are the basis of many living organisms and man-made materials.
“The procedure is straightforward, scalable and suitable for completion by undergraduates, which demonstrates the robustness of the system,” Costanzo said.

Geisys is planning manufacturing scaleup and exploring further partnerships with selected adhesive manufacturers.
“We are excited to partner with Geisys Ventures on this important technology, highlighting Cal Poly’s focus to develop market-transforming technologies with our private sector partners,” said Jim Dunning, Cal Poly’s associate vice president of corporate engagement and innovation.


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