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  • Writer's pictureRick Heggs

Navigating Chemical Regulations: Harnessing the Power of Biobased Alternatives



Sustainability and health are at the top of everyone's mind today.   One increasingly important aspect of sustainability and a healthy lifestyle is reducing exposure to toxic materials at home and at work. At Omni Tech, we have been championing the use of biobased materials to replace toxic and non-renewable materials for nearly three decades. This long-standing commitment is a testament to our belief in the power of biobased materials. Governments have enacted regulations to remove or reduce the most harmful materials from our workplaces and homes for many years with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), California's Proposition 65, and the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations to name just a few. In many cases, these regulations have resulted in the development of technologies using bioderived feedstocks to replace petroleum-based feedstocks to reduce toxicity, typically without loss of functionality or performance.


Some notable examples include:

  • TSCA banned the manufacture and use of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) chemicals in 1979 because they are cancer-causing and bio accumulative. PCBs were widely used as cooling and insulating fluids in transformers and other electrical equipment. After this ban, much research was conducted to find alternative materials. One notable alternative was using natural oil esters such as those from soybean or canola, which performed well as a cooling and insulating fluid due to their high flash point and ability to tolerate small amounts of moisture without losing insulating value. One product that has had success in this market is Cargill's FR3 transformer fluid, made from natural oil esters. Some studies have shown that natural oil ester transformer fluids increase the life of transformers by sequestering moisture and increasing capacity by allowing a transformer to operate at higher temperatures than mineral oil1.

 

  • Formaldehyde is recognized as a carcinogen when inhaled. Formaldehyde is a primary ingredient in many wood adhesives that produce plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and particle board. TSCA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have set limits on Formaldehyde emissions for wood products and for exposure in the workplace, respectively. A widely used formaldehyde-free adhesive for hardwood plywood, it is based on soy protein and has been commercialized by Solenis as SoyadTM 2 and Columbia Forest Products as PurebondTM 3. Although it has a significant market share in this market, the water resistance of this adhesive can still not be used in products designed for outdoor exposure, like OSB, MDF, and particle board. Research is continuing to improve this technology's water resistance to meet these products' requirements.


  • Methylene Chloride is a powerful halogenated organic solvent that has been identified as a health hazard for liver damage, cancer, and neurotoxicity by inhalation and dermal exposure. TSCA banned methylene chloride from being used in paint strippers in 2019. Several paint strippers have been developed that use methyl esters of soybean oil (methyl soyate or biodiesel). These alternative paint strippers are effective, non-toxic, and biodegradable. Several companies have such products, including Franmar's Blue Bear Soy-GelTM product line4.

 

These are just a few of the many examples of how bio-based chemicals and products are transforming our homes and workplaces, making them healthier and more sustainable. Restrictions on hazardous chemicals can be viewed not as a problem but as an opportunity for the development of green, sustainable, and carbon-friendly technologies. This shift towards bio-based materials is a beacon of hope for a healthier and more sustainable future.

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