Environmental Protection

Sugary Approach Discovered to Help Metal Casting Production

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that sugar can help reduce toxicity in the production of metal casting parts.

Some modern technologies in the metal casting industry use various types of “binders” to essentially glue together sands and other materials to form sophisticated molds. Molten metals are injected into the molds in order to create products with complex shapes. Existing approaches work, but some materials used today can emit toxic fumes during the process.

Experts in adhesion science in the OSU College of Forestry have discovered and applied for a patent on a new use of a compound that appears to also work surprisingly well for this purpose. They say it should cost less than existing binders, is completely renewable and should be environmentally benign.

“We were surprised that simple sugar could bind sand together so strongly,” said Kaichang Li, an OSU professor of wood science and engineering. “Sugar and other carbohydrates are abundant, inexpensive, food-grade materials. The binder systems we’ve developed should be much less expensive than existing sand binders and not have toxicity concerns.”

Sugar is a highly water-soluble food ingredient, as anyone knows who has ever put a teaspoon of it in a cup of coffee. The OSU researchers discovered a novel way to make strong and moisture-resistant sand molds with sugar. An inaccurate reading of temperature in a baking oven helped lead to the important discovery, they said.

This novel sand binder technology is ready for more applied research and testing, they said, and the university is seeking investors and industrial partners to commercialize it. Private sector financing of OSU research has increased 42 percent in the past two years, to $35 million, as part of its increasing emphasis on university/industry partnerships.

Sand-based moldings, which comprise about 70 percent of all metal castings, are used to make many metal products, often from aluminum or cast iron, but also from bronze, copper, tin, and steel. They are a major part of the automobile industry, along with applications in plumbing materials, mining, railroad applications and many other areas.

Sugar and the other agricultural products used for this purpose should have no environmental drawbacks, since they largely decompose into just carbon dioxide and water. With the techniques developed at OSU, the use of sugar as a binder allows the creation of sand molds that gain strength rapidly and remain strong in high humidity environments, which is necessary for their effective use in industrial applications.

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