AVA-CO2 Launches A Research Project To Replace Carcinogenic Formaldehyde With Bio-based 5-HMF

Biotechnology meeting Swiss' Science to help avoid environmental impact

The formaldehyde-based resin manufacturing industry is facing a growing challenge. The use of formaldehyde, a carcinogen which has adverse effects on human health, is increasingly coming under public and political criticism.  In June 2014 the 6th adaptation to technical and scientific progress of the CLP (Classification, Labelling and Packaging) directive was published in the Official Journal of the European Union. This classified formaldehyde as carcinogenic and mutagenic and has far-reaching and, in part, immediate consequences for a variety of business sectors but especially in the furniture industry. Now, in conjunction with the Institute for Materials and Wood Technology at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, AVA-CO2 is launching a research project sponsored by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to replace formaldehyde with a none harmful alternative in the form of bio-based platform chemical 5-HMF (5-Hydroxymethylfurfural).

Formaldehyde is a key base material for the chemical industry and serves as the source for many chemical compounds. In the EU approximately 10 million tonnes are produced per year, worldwide around 47 million tonnes.  By 2017 it is expected that the global annual production will reach 52 million tonnes. A large proportion of the synthesised formaldehyde is used in the production of glues and impregnating resins for wood-based materials. Adhesive resins are also found in the manufacture of plywood panels, blockboards and chipboards (MDF and OSB) where the furniture industry is one of the main users. Classifying formaldehyde as carcinogenic and mutagenic has far-reaching and, in part, dramatic consequences for these manufacturing industries.

In a series of studies surrounding the synthesis of phenolic resins (PF), melamine formaldehyde resins (MF) and urea resins (UF), bio-based 5-HMF is being researched as a potential substitute for formaldehyde. The aim of these studies is to partially or fully replace formaldehyde in the relevant materials in order to reduce or entirely eliminate the release of formaldehyde. Partially replacing formaldehyde with 5-HMF in these products can, in part, drastically reduce the release of formaldehyde by means of cross-linking. Full replacement with 5-HMF would correspondingly lead to the complete elimination of formaldehyde emissions.

The aim of the project, sponsored by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) and bearing the English title “Development of a formaldehyde-free urea type adhesive for the manufacturing of wood-based panels“, is to come up with a formaldehyde-free, sustainable and harmless adhesive for industrial use in the wood-processing industry.

What is 5-HMF

5-HMF is a bio-based platform chemical containing both an aldehyde and an alcohol functional group. The special characteristics of 5-HMF offer wide-ranging applications in many different industries. For example: the oxidation of 5-HMF to FDCA (furandicarboxylic acid) forms the basis for the manufacture of PEF (polyethylene furanoate). PEF is a bio-based substitute for petroleum-based PET and can, amongst other applications, be used in the manufacture of bottles for soft drinks or for food packaging. It can also be used in the textile industry or the medical technology sector. 5-HMF has applications in the pharmaceutical industry, as an API (active pharmaceutical ingredient), and also has uses in foodstuffs and in the agrochemical sector.  The research project may lead to various ways to employ 5-HMF as a substitute for the carcinogenic formaldehyde.


About AVA-CO2

Biotechnology Company AVA-CO2 is a leader in the use of hydrothermal processes to produce materials and energy from biomass.  The company provides a range of solutions, including a patented process for the large-scale production of bio-based platform chemical 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF). 5-HMF is a renewable alternative to petro-based materials and is used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.  AVA-CO2‘s subsidiary, AVA Biochem, already produces high-purity 5-HMF for the speciality chemicals markets. AVA-CO2 also leads in the use of hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC) technology to efficiently valorise sewage sludge and other organic residues as well as for producing high-performance carbons such as powdered activated carbon or carbon black. As a technology leader, the company also enables economical solutions for phosphorus recovery with the proprietary HTC based AVA cleanphos process. A Swiss company, AVA-CO2 is based in Zug, Switzerland and has subsidiaries in Switzerland and Germany.  In October 2010, the world‘s first industrial-scale HTC demonstration plant opened in Karlsruhe, Germany.  In February 2014, the world’s first plant for commercial 5-HMF production was commissioned in Muttenz, Switzerland.

About Bern University of Applied Sciences

The Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH is an application-oriented university. In addition to teaching, the university provides continuing education, research and development and services relating to its core competences. The Department of Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering is an important partner within the building and construction scene: in Burgdorf and Biel/Bienne, some 800 in-demand future professionals are being educated for positions in the timber, building and construction industries. All the department’s courses are closely linked to current practices and trends, and facilitate the rapid progression of new graduates to professional life. In Biel the focus is on wood as a raw material and a working material. The department has been successfully providing training in wood engineering for over 20 years. Its courses are unique in Switzerland and enjoy an international reputation in the wood industry. The Higher Technical School HF Wood Biel is affiliated to the Department of Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering. The range of courses for persons from the fields of timber construction, joinery, interior furnishing and the timber industry rounds off a broad educational programme.


AVA-CO2, press release, 2016-03-11.


AVA Biochem
Berner Fachhochschule (BFH)
European Union
Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI)