Columbia Forest Products, which has kept a secret of making green, formaldehyde-free hardwood plywood to itself for more than three years, is now beginning to sell the product to its competitors who make wood composite panels.

"We have had a great deal of interest; virtually everyone wants to try it out," said Steve Pung, vice president of technology for Columbia Forest Products. "So we are going to sell this to our domestic competitors. We want the whole industry to adopt this because, from the perspective of the domestic industry, it helps us."

The move is especially timely because California is implementing increasingly stringent restrictions on formaldehyde off-gassing from building products over the next couple of years. It also comes at a time when more builders are looking to implement green building practices.

For years, researchers have been working to find a replacement for the urea-formaldehyde-based glues used to make interior wood composite panels including interior plywood, particle board, and MDF. Cancer-causing formaldehyde leaks off of the products long after they are made, posing a potential health risk.

While progress was made in reducing the amount of formaldehyde emitted by the panels, such off-gassing had not been eliminated. And while there were some glues that didn't use urea formaldehyde available, they all were more expensive than the common urea-formaldehyde-based products.

Then, one day in 2000, Oregon State University researcher Kaichang Li, an associate professor of wood science and engineering and an expert in wood adhesives and composite materials, was prying mussels from some rocks at the Pacific Coast for dinner. The tenacity with which the creatures adhered to the rocks--despite the water and waves--inspired him to analyze what made them so sticky.

It turns out that a specific protein is responsible for their tenacity. Li was able to reproduce the protein using low-cost, non-toxic, plentiful soybeans. He patented his findings a year later in 2001.

But it took much longer to commercialize the discovery. "At the beginning, very few people believed in me," said Li. Finding an equal-cost replacement for the cheap urea-formaldehyde-based adhesives was a holy grail that seemed impossible at times to reach.

Columbia now uses only the mussel-inspired glue to make its plywood marketed under the name PureBond. This week, the Greensboro, N.C.-based company unveiled a plan to solve a problem it has been having with linking consumers, who are calling and asking for their product, to the manufacturers of cabinetry, millwork, and furniture.

At the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta this week Columbia began recruiting manufacturers who use its products into a PureBond Fabricator Network that will connect the dots between builders and consumers looking for its products.

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