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In The Future, Diapers Will Be Made Out Of Sugar

Right now, diapers–like everything else–are made out of oil. But new innovations may soon allow microorganisms to make a key ingredient in super-absorbent polymers, just from eating some sweets.

In The Future, Diapers Will Be Made Out Of Sugar
Government Press Office

Humans today are weaned on the oil-based economy; even diapers contain materials that are derived from crude oil. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Biotechnology company Novozymes is teaming up with BASF and Cargill to develop technology that can generate a key oil-based diaper component, called acrylic acid, from renewable materials.

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Acrylic acid is used in a number of settings, including the manufacturing process of superabsorbent polymers that can soak up lots of liquid–something that’s obviously advantageous for baby diapers. In 2011, 4.5 million tons of acrylic acid–at value of $11 billion–were produced.

Today, acrylic acid is produced in the refining process of crude oil. Novozymes wants to change that. The company has worked with Cargill for years on renewable acrylic acid that can be produced with help from microorganisms (developed by the two companies) that can turn renewable feedstock–in this case, sugar–into a chemical precursor to acrylic acid.

BASF, the world’s largest acrylic acid producer, is now working with Novozymes and Cargill to create the renewable acrylic acid has a home for production and processing. And so once the three companies figure out how to scale up production, babies may be wearing diapers that are partially made out of sugar instead of oil.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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