Formaldehyde is a dirty word in manufacturing. Although consumers and players all along the value chain generally prefer to avoid it, formulators in many industries still turn to the highly toxic material because it is cost-effective to produce.
That said, formaldehyde adds cost to the production process in other ways — not to mention a safety concern for plant workers and end users. With that in mind, formulators working in the nonwoven space are looking into formaldehyde-free alternatives.
BASF has introduced a line of water-based acrylic binders for natural, synthetic and glass fiber nonwovens, called Acrodur. The line offers high-performance alternatives to traditional formaldehyde-based resins and binders.
“Any applications that would traditionally use melamine, urea or phenol formaldehyde as a binder — Acrodur is a replacement for those resins,” says Matt Cloward, Marketing Manager of Cellulosics and Composites at BASF. “It performs well in all nonwoven segments where formaldehyde has traditionally been used.”
Cloward says the line has been particularly successful in two applications: glass wool insulation and roofing mat (i.e. asphalt shingles). It also excels in air filtration, acoustic wall and ceiling panels, abrasives, automotive lightweighting and composite furniture, to name a few.
Because Acrodur is completely water-based, it is much safer for both formulators and end users.
“You end up with very, very low VOC content, and it has no added formaldehyde,” Cloward explains. “That’s beneficial for indoor air quality, because [the resin] will not release chemicals into the air.”
He uses insulation as an example: with formaldehyde-based insulation, the roof and walls could potentially trap harmful chemicals within a home, which may pose a risk to the people and pets living inside.
“We want to keep indoor air quality at a high level,” he says.
In a manufacturing setting, a formaldehyde-free alternative is equally important for plant safety and reducing costs. Formaldehyde materials add extra steps to production.
“When formulators use formaldehyde products, they have to filter the air and capture those chemicals as a part of the production process,” Cloward says. “Their production costs are higher because they have to deal with excess chemicals.”
Because Acrodur reduces plant emissions, it provides added benefits to manufacturers who are working under strict state-imposed regulations. Cloward says he has heard many cases of formulators whose businesses continue to grow and produce more over the years, but their emissions are capped at the same levels.
“They may be producing five or ten times the quantity of product they were making ten years ago, but the [emissions limits] they were allotted has not increased,” he explains. “So, they have this continually growing need to capture more and more of these chemicals.”
With Acrodur’s water-based acrylic technology as an alternative, Cloward says, “They can streamline production and eliminate steps in the process. Those are big wins.”
Because its applications require dependable performance, Acrodur binders provide excellent heat stability, wet and dry strength, and adhesive and strengthening properties. They are available in different grades for different applications.
As manufacturers phase formaldehyde out of their processes, they are beginning to adopt more sustainable and cost-effective practices. Formaldehyde is still a dirty word, but terms like “water-based” and “low-VOC” are quickly becoming a bigger part of the average formulator’s vocabulary.