Scientists at the chemistry department at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in Chennai have developed a biodegradable super-absorbent polymer using chitosan—a kind of sugar extracted from seafood waste, citric acid and urea. Each gram of the polymer can absorb 1,250 grams of water. The polymer can be used to manufacture disposable diapers.

The new polymer’s water absorption capacity was about eight times compared to super-absorbing polymers used in commercial diapers, according to a report by a government-run science news wire.

The team included Raghavachari Dhamodharan, Abathodharanan Narayanan, Ravishankar Kartik, and Elanchezhian Sangeetha. The results of the study were published in the journal ‘Carbohydrate Polymers’.

The material does not absorb water as rapidly as commercially available diaper materials now, but it is biodegradable unlike fully synthetic commercial super-absorbents, according to lead researcher Dhamodharan.

He described the synthesis process as eco-friendly since water has been used in experiments instead of any synthetic chemicals.

The gel has also been tested for its suitability as a scaffolding material in tissue engineering. Researchers feel it can also find applications in agriculture, especially as a controlled releasing agent of micro and macronutrients to the soil.

The team is now working on similar biodegradable polymers as a substitute for polyurethane, polystyrene packaging materials that do not degrade. (DS)