In a first for a Virginia Tech graduate, Kaichang Li, who received his Ph. D. in wood chemistry under Virginia Tech professor Rich Helm in 1996, has received the 2007 Presidential Green Chemistry Award for the "development and commercial applications of using soy-based adhesives for making wood composites."
Kaichang, who had done his doctoral work at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources, is now associate professor in the Department of Wood Science and Engineering at Oregon State University. He collaborated with Columbia Forest Products and Hercules Incorporated to commercialize the soy-based adhesives for production of interiorly used plywood and particleboard.
The production of wood composites such as plywood, particleboard, and medium density fiberboard usually utilizes formaldehyde-based adhesives such as urea-formaldehyde (UF) and phenol-formaldehyde resins. Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is emitted in the production and use of wood composite panels that are bonded with UF resins. Columbia Forest Products (CFP) has replaced UF resins in its production with the soy-based adhesives, developed from soybean flour starting in April 2005. In 2006 an estimated 47 million pounds of toxic UF resin was replaced. Since then CFP has reduced the emission of hazardous air pollutant by 50-90 percent.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented the award to Kaichang. When talking about impact on the environment, Kaichang said this new technology “will greatly improve our indoor air quality when more and more wood composite manufacturers use the soy-based adhesives.”
The College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech consistently ranks among the top five programs of its kind in the nation. Faculty members stress both the technical and human elements of natural resources and instill in students a sense of stewardship and land-use ethics. Areas of studies include environmental resource management, fisheries and wildlife sciences, forestry, geospatial and environmental analysis, natural resource recreation, urban forestry, wood science and forest products, geography, and international development.