Soy Protein Isolate Molecular Level Contributions to Bulk Adhesive Properties

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Polymers and High Performance Materials

First Advisor

Shelby F. Thames

Advisor Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials


Increasing environmental awareness and the recognized health hazards of formaldehyde-based resins has prompted a strong demand for environmentally-responsible adhesives for wood composites. Soy protein-based adhesives have been shown to be commercially viable with 90-day shelf stability and composite physical properties comparable to those of commercial formaldehyde-based particleboards. The main research focus is to isolate and characterize the molecular level features in soy protein isolate responsible for providing mechanical properties, storage stability, and water resistance during adhesive formulation, processing, and wood composite fabrication. Commercial composite board will be reviewed to enhance our understanding of the individual components and processes required for particleboard production. The levels of protein structure will be defined and an overview of current bio-based technology will be presented. In the process, the logic for utilizing soy protein as a sole binder in the adhesive will be reinforced. Variables such as adhesive components, pH, divalent ions, blend aging, protein molecular weight, formulation solids content, and soy protein functionalization will relate the bulk properties of soy protein adhesives to the molecular configuration of the soybean protein. This work has demonstrated that when intermolecular β-sheet interactions and protein long-range order is disrupted, viscosity and mechanical properties decrease. Storage stability can be maintained through the stabilization of intermolecular β-sheet interactions. When molecular weight is reduced through enzymatic digestion, long-range order is disrupted and viscosity and mechanical properties decrease accordingly. Processibility and physical properties must be balanced to increase solids while maintaining low viscosity, desirable mechanical properties, and adequate storage stability. The structure of the soybean protein must be related to the particleboard bulk mechanical properties to produce an environmentally responsible, formaldehyde-free adhesive. It is also imperative to study the adhesion between protein and wood.