March 12, 2004

 

Data Recording Materials Made from Insect Wax: CERA RICA NODA

* This article is under copyright protection.

Manabu Akaike
Universal Design Intelligence Inc.

Insect Wax Finds Wide Application from Drugs to Packaging Material

Beeswax is the wax secreted by honeybees for hive-building and has a wide variety of commercial applications. Beeswax is a chemical compound of complex structure with a high melting point. It has a smooth high quality feel and sheen, and is used in processing building materials, cosmetics, wax, shoe polish, crayons and carbon paper. In recent years its qualities as a safe all-natural material have been increasingly recognized, particularly as an ecologically friendly wood finish that may help solve sick building syndrome problems, and beeswax is being revisited in Europe and America as well as Japan with an eye to its new marketing potential.

One company that is particularly interested in special applications for the waxes produced by insects is CERA RICA NODA, located in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. CERA RICA NODA was founded more than 150 years ago as a manufacturer and wholesaler of waxes taken from the wax tree or sumac tree, producing candles as well as ceremonial hair pomade for sumo wrestlers. Taizo Noda became the fifteenth generation of the Noda family to head the business when he became president of the company in 1988, and has gone on to grow the company into a major supplier of a wide variety of animal/insect waxes as well as vegetable waxes for use in industrial materials.

Most insects including bees produce a waxy substance that adheres to the surface of their bodies as a means to prevent the water component of their delicate inner structures from evaporating. The black sheen that cockroaches have is a result of this wax on their body surface. The kaigara-mushi or scale insect which is a pest that feeds on hedges uses its wax to make a tiny white shelter the size of a grain of rice.

This type of insect or animal wax generally has special characteristics including melting easily when heated and hardening quickly. It is cheaper than chemically prepared wax, and is currently recommended widely for use as a mold release agent for industrial metal molds, and as an additive to data recording material such as cassette ribbons for typewriters and word processors and paper for heat sensitive fax paper. CERA RICA NODA has established a lab in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture, to support research into applications for insect waxes and continues to explore wider uses in drugs, cosmetics, foods and packaging materials.

Currently, CERA RICA NODA has its eye on the white wax or snow wax secreted by the aforementioned scale insect, best known as a pest that eats and destroys the leaves of the fruit trees which it lives off of. This snow wax has a high melting point and good sheen and is stable in physicochemical terms, so that it is very well suited for use in data recording material, and is currently used as a raw material in making water-resistant material, lubricating agents, color ink and color copier toner.

Joint Development with Chinese Researchers

I was a bit taken aback when I first heard that we are already using this type of insect wax in food processing. For example, the wax of these scale insects is used to form a no-melt coating on the kind of chocolate that does not melt in the hand. It's also used in the nikuman and anman meat and bean patties that are commonly sold as fast food in convenience stores. When preparing the bean jam stuffing that goes into each patty, the bean jam is commonly wrapped in a thin skin made of wheat flour. Each portion is then measured and twisted off. The snow wax made by these scale insects is used to help keep the skins on the bean jam portions from sticking together.

While remaining heavily involved in research into the properties of this material and in the development of applications for it, CERA RICA NODA is also working to develop insect wax based environmental and health products for the consumer market. The same white wax is used in so-called aromatherapy candles that have healing effects, and the market for these items as a light source that does not emit smoke or soot is growing.

Worth particular mention is the fact that CERA RICA NODA has been working together with researchers in China to explore the properties of insect waxes. The Research Institute of Resource Insects, part of the Chinese Academy of Forestry, is located in Yunnan Province in southern China. CERA RICA NODA has been implementing plans to cultivate trees that are attractive to scale insects, such as the ilex and wax tree or Japanese privet in the deep woodlands of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in cooperation with the Resource Insects Institute, helping to provide employment opportunities in the Chinese interior. This joint project was chosen to receive development financing from the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 1996.

So far, the manufacturing industry has tended to only focus on China as a source of cheap labor for overseas production facilities. But CERA RICA NODA has seen China as a place of rich resources in the field of research and development and has been working together with its natural resources and the know1edge of its highly educated people. In fact, most of the world's diverse research institutions specializing in insects are actually located in China. For any company that desires to learn about production from the animal world, China's existence can no longer be ignored.

As the impact of chemical materials on our environment comes more and more into question, our times demand that the use of traditional materials be revisited and activated. The basic research into insect resources that is being carried out anew by companies like CERA RICA NODA is helping to create a new future and potential for manufacturing.

JAPAN CLOSE-UP, August 2002, published by PHP




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