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Science and Technology

Professor, Students Develop Innovative Glue Breakthrough — And It Just Got Patented

A professor stands between two students in lab coats as they handle debondable glue sticks in a chemistry lab.
Written By Nick Wilson

An innovative, ecofriendly glue designed by a Cal Poly chemistry research team in collaboration with an East Coast company has been approved for a U.S. government patent.

The patent, approved Nov. 21, creates a pathway for proprietary commercial production of the glue innovation under the direction of the Massachusetts-based company Geisys Ventures.  

Pieces of a new kind of debondable glue stick on a glass clipboard in a lab.
A close-up of debondable glue sticks designed by professor Phil Costanzo and his students. 

The new adhesive, which will be formally known as D-Glue (for "debondable glue") was created by Cal Poly chemistry professor Phil Costanzo and Geisys Ventures CEO Kris Stokes. 

D-Glue has potential to reduce landfill waste and positively impact the environment on a broad scale. 

Extreme heat is typically required to separate recyclable materials from the glue currently in use — and the cost of that process is often prohibitive, which discourages reclamation of those materials and adds to waste and environmental pollution. 

D-Glue is designed so it can be broken apart at lower temperatures, requiring much less energy, while maintaining the integrity of the item. Costanzo and Stokes hope to launch D-Glue broadly as a commercial product, offering companies a glue that makes it economically feasible to recycle these valuable components.

Costanzo and Stokes, who have known each other since college, invented the adhesive over the past few years using a sequence of bonds that link one polymer chain to another, referred to as Diels-Alder linkages, into the product.

Under their supervision, students in Cal Poly's Bailey College of Science and Mathematics are currently assisting with research and development of the product — and will continue to do so as it scales up. 

“Being able to do meaningful research as an undergrad is such a huge opportunity and unique to Cal Poly and its Learn by Doing mission,” said Sophia Newcomer, a second-year biochemistry major and Frost Fund program researcher. “I really appreciate that Cal Poly has so many chemistry projects that are focused on sustainability, like this one is.”

The patent establishes the team's ownership and intellectual property of the technology for use across multiple industries and global market sectors, including apparel, electronics and energy.

“This step validates our work as a relevant industrial process,” Costanzo said. “Many people are trying to do this in polymer science, and we’ve been one of the early adopters of this idea. The concept of design for disassembly is still relatively new.”

Currently, Geisys Ventures is in talks with multiple prospective corporations and product manufacturers on the use of the glue for commercial and industrial applications.

“We hope our product will help companies to improve their yields and have materials that you can repair by pulling them apart instead of just discarding them as waste,” Stokes said. “Salvaging old materials will be really beneficial to the environment and the circular economy.”

Ryan Donnelly, a second-year chemistry major, said the practice experience of the lab process has been invaluable.

“It's almost like what you would expect in an industry job,” said Donnelly, also a Frost researcher. “We’ve been able to build a product from the ground up and take it from the theoretical stage through the experimental to an actual, marketable product. We see what customers want and specialize our experiments to their specific needs.”