The Mutually Beneficial Relationship between Superabsorbent Polymers and Diapers

The global superabsorbent polymers (SAP) market will thrive in the coming years due to the rising demand from its leading application segment – diapers. The demand for superabsorbent polymers is high in the manufacture of baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, and adult incontinence products. This demand is projected to grow and evolve in the coming few years. However, before we look into this shift in demand, let us look at how this mutually beneficial relationship between SAP and diapers started.

How did the Relationship between SAP and Diapers Begin?

Till the 1980s, cellulosics or other fiber-based substances were used as water absorbing materials. The water retention capacity of such materials was 20 times their weight, at best. In the 1960s, though, the USDA was conducting research on materials that would improve the water conservation level in soils. They invented a resin-based substance grafted of acrylonitrile polymer onto the backbone of starch molecule. This hydrolyzed product possessed a water absorption capacity of 400 times its weight. Furthermore, this new gel substance did not release liquid water, a significant advantage over its fiber-based counterparts.

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This substance was called ‘Super Slurper’ and its know-how was shared by the USDA to many companies in the USA for further development. During the early 1970s, this superabsorbent polymer was commercially applied for the first time, not for its originally intended use of soil conservation, but for making disposable hygienic products such as adult incontinence products and feminine sanitary napkins.

Rising Demand for Diapers and Thriving Superabsorbent Polymers Industry

The global diapers market is driven by the rising number of adults using diapers in home healthcare, institutional care facilities, and hospitals. Several diaper makers have launched products that help adults with conditions such as urinary incontinence. On the other hand, the demand for baby diapers is driven by the growing urbanization and rising disposable incomes, increasingly young maturing age among females, the growing number of female workers, and the decreasing infant mortality rate. Backed by these trends, the global diapers market is projected to be valued at more than US$63 bn by 2017.

By application, the global superabsorbent polymers (SAP) market is segmented into baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, adult incontinence products, and others such as medical, agriculture, and paper packaging. The global SAP market is led by the baby diaper sector, which held a massive 74% market share in 2013.

Future of Relationship between Diapers and Superabsorbent Polymers is Bright
The baby diapers segment is projected to emerge as the fastest-growing segment in the global superabsorbent polymers (SAP) market. This promises a bright future for the relationship between the diapers industry and SAP market.

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However, it seems that the global superabsorbent polymers market is presently on the verge of a transformation, as consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly products. Hence, companies are now investing heavily in innovating superabsorbent polymers (SAP) that are made using biobased substances such as cellulose, starch, and others. This trend will further drive the overall SAP market and diapers industry.

ADM has come up with bio-based superabsorbent polymers that are used to make disposable hygiene products. In 2014, companies such as Novozymes, Cargill, and BASF achieved a milestone by developing a superabsorbent polymer from a biobased acrylic acid in a joint development project.


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