Reporter 456, 9 October 2000

New glue eases recycling headache

A company spun off from the work of polymer scientists and technology could answer some of the biggest challenges facing the motor industry.

The business, Gluco, was set up to exploit new adhesives technology for polypropylene. The high degree of crystallinity and inertness which makes polypropylene an attractive material also makes it hard to find an adhesive capable of bonding it strongly to other materials like aluminium and steel. Mechanical fasteners, welding or expensive superglues were the only practical ways of fixing polypropylene to such substrates.

Led by Professor Tony Johnson, the Interdisciplinary Research Centre’s Gluco team, comprising Dr SW ‘Paddy’ Tsui and Howard White, has completed a feasibility study to develop a high-performance hot-melt adhesive, based on chemically modified polypropylene.

One of the biggest application areas is likely to be in the automobile industry, for bonding internal and external components like door panels, bumpers and roof linings. Current law requires manufacturers to make cars from materials of which 80 percent by weight can be recycled. That proportion soon goes up to 95 percent, and designers are looking for ways to make parts which can be recycled without a costly separation process.

Gluco’s hot-melt adhesive helps here: for instance, it can stick a polypropylene foam lining to a steel roof and will only need heat to separate them. The adhesive is currently finding other applications including making aluminium-framed cases for instruments and a strong, lightweight laminate for car body panels.

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