Cal Poly students Reed Kellar, a construction management major, and Taylor Vaughan, a biochemistry major, work in Cal Poly Chemistry Professor Phil Costanzo’s research lab. Reed is cutting adhesive coupons, and Taylor is bonding fabrics.
A Cal Poly faculty member and several students, in collaboration with an East Coast company, have developed a new adhesive that has the potential to significantly impact the amount of consumer materials that are recycled in the U.S. and worldwide.
Professor Philip Costanzo has been developing a new glue in his Cal Poly laboratory in partnership with the technology development and consulting company Geisys Ventures, LLC (Geisys). 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.
“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 Cal Poly biochemistry major. “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 that also are passionate about chemistry and learning.”
Costanzo and Dr. 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 the Costanzo lab with applications in biobased, fully recyclable coatings, and 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.
“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 biobased 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.”
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.