A chemistry to make diapers and other absorbent products friendlier to the environment-with the aim of making them cost competitive, has been developed by scientists at Battelle. The next step is to commercialize this new, green innovation- an idea that uses soybean meal to replace a third of the petroleum products currently found in such items. Soybeans are about 20% oil, 70% soybean meal and 8% hulls. Soybean meal is mainly used for animal feed and is the part Battelle scientists use to convert to the SAP.
Diapers and other materials that absorb liquids are effective because of hydrogels, which are known to scientists as super absorbent polymers (SAPs)-petroleum-based acrylic acid materials that can absorb hundreds of times their weights in liquid. The idea is to use soy meal to replace 33% of the acrylic acid-based SAPs, keeping the same absorption rate-200 to 300 times its own weight-and, perhaps most importantly, maintaining a comparable price point. "We believe that everyone wants to be environmentally friendly, but they want products that perform exactly the same as their oil-based counterparts without costing more," said Marty Toomajian, President of Battelle's Energy, Environment and Material Sciences Global Business. "That is what we are trying to do with this new innovation. The aim is to replace a portion of the petroleum-based product with a sustainable one and work to make it cost effective."
The market for SAPs today is about 1.6 million tpa, with personal care items making up the vast majority-diapers account for 83% of that market. Even a modest penetration of the market could mean a large replacement of oil-based products with a renewable, sustainable replacement, reducing the need for dependence on foreign oil while helping American farmers.