OSU Re-Shapes the Metal Casting Industry: Sugar Wears a New Hat

Sugar!Sugar, that sweet compound that makes dentists cringe and waistlines bulge, may have a brand new use, thanks to innovative research at Oregon State University. Dr. Kaichang Li, a professor of wood science and engineering at OSU, and Jian Huang, a faculty research assistant, have discovered that sugar makes a surprisingly strong binder in the creation of the sand-based molds used by the world’s multi-billion dollar foundry and metal casting industry that produces everything from car parts to jet engines.

Binders are necessary for essentially gluing together sand particles into myriad mold shapes that can be used to form molten metal into the components of plumbing equipment, railroad engines, and much more. But common binders, such as furan and phenol formaldehyde resins, can give off toxic fumes and are potentially carcinogenic.

“We were surprised that simple sugar could bind sand together so strongly,” reported Dr. Li in an OSU press release. “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.”

The use of sugar as an alternative to current resins would not only reduce the substantial environmental impact of foundry molds worldwide, it would also help decrease exposure of our global population to potentially dangerous chemicals.

by Genevieve Weber