2nd quarter 2006
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Superabsorbent Polymers: From Diapers to Crops of the Future
published in Issue 65, 2nd quarter 2006
Superabsorbent polymers, generally referred to as SAPs, have the ability to absorb and store many times their own weight of aqueous liquids. For this reason, they have been widely employed in the disposable hygiene sector—in diapers, feminine care items and adult incontinence products.
SAPs are barely 25 years old. They were first introduced commercially into the hygiene market by Japan’s Unicharm in 1982 and were adopted in the mid-1980s by the brands of major Western consumer product companies such as Procter & Gamble and Kimberly Clark.
Today, the bulk of global SAP production, by far, is being swallowed up by the nonwoven disposable hygiene products industry. But small quantities of SAPs are also being used in other fields—especially in advancing the growth of crops, where there is vast potential for future growth.
SAPs are also being employed in other applications—including food packaging, the protection of cables from water damage, and firefighting aids.
Superabsorbent fibres (SAFs)—which are made from SAPs—are being produced by the UK company Technical Absorbents, based on technology originally developed by Courtaulds. SAFs have many niche technical uses in yarn and fabric form, including food packaging, medical fabrics and power cable yarns.