In this study, a lignin-based polyacid catalyst was synthesized via two steps to enhance water resistance of urea–formaldehyde (UF) resins. The first steps involved a hydroxymethylation reaction to increase the hydroxyl content in lignin. Then, hydroxymethylated lignins were reacted with maleic anhydride to form maleated lignin-based polyacids. The acid groups were expected to function as acid catalysts to catalyze the curing process of UF resin. In order to elucidate the structural variation, 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylpropane as a typical guaiacol lignin structural unit was used as a model compound to observe the hydroxymethylation and the reaction with maleic anhydride analyzed by 1
H and 13
C NMR. After the structural analysis of synthesized lignin-based polyacid by FTIR and 13
C NMR, it was used to produce UF resin as an adhesive in plywood and medium density fiberboard (MDF) production, respectively. The results showed that when the addition of lignin-based polyacid was 5% in plywood, it could effectively improve the water resistance of UF resins as compared to commercial additive NH4
Cl. It also exhibited a lower formaldehyde emission. Like plywood, lignin-based catalysts used in medium density fiberboard production could not only maintain the mechanical properties, but also inhibit the water adsorption of fiberboards.
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