In a move to support market growth and drive innovation, BASF plans to expand its existing superabsorbent polymer production capacities at its sites in Antwerp, Belgium and Freeport, USA. Gradual debottlenecking and technical expansion measures are to raise annual capacity by 70,000 tons to a total of 470,000 tons by 2012, with each site contributing an additional 35,000 tons. The additional superabsorbent polymer volumes are also required to prepare investments at new sites in growth markets.
Superabsorbent polymers are plastics with the capacity to absorb up to 500 times their own weight in liquid. The absorption drops to a still impressive figure of 50 times their weight in salty body fluids such as urine. In chemical terms, superabsorbent polymers are water-insoluble cross-linked high-molecular-weight polymers. Upon exposure to liquids, the granules form a gel that locks in large amounts of liquid and does not release it even under pressure. The product is used in the form of a white grainy powder. Superabsorbent polymers are mainly used to make diapers. Adult incontinence products and female hygiene products are another priority area of research and marketing for the white granules. Some applications are non-hygiene—the absorption power of superabsorbent polymers is also used for car seat moisture control and agricultural water storage.