From cosmetics to diapers: polyacrylates are found in a wide range of products. They are, however, harmful to the environment. Wageningen University & Research (WUR) develops green alternatives from biomass. Dishwasher tablets from beet pulp, for example.
Each year, chemical plants produce some 10-15 million tonnes of polyacrylates that are used in the manufacturing of dishwasher tablets, cosmetics, diapers, paint, adhesives and plastics. Manufacturers can add whatever properties they desire to these substances – from high absorption characteristics to the ability to descale water or form a beautiful layer of paint.
The disadvantage is that polyacrylates are produced from petroleum, a fossil resource. Moreover, a considerable amount of CO2 is emitted during its production. After use, polyacrylates are often discarded into the environment, where they build up. Consider, for example, residues of cleaning fluids or paints that are flushed down the sink—more than enough reasons to search for green alternatives.
Biomass as a resource
Chemists and biotechnologists of Wageningen University & Research make these alternatives out of biomass. They developed ways to extract valuable feedstock from green waste and by-products from the agricultural and food industries. Resources that can be transformed into biopolymers with practical purposes. WUR scientists have worked with sugar beet processor Cosun, dishwashing agents manufacturer Dalli de Klok and chemicals supplier Smit & Zoon since 2017 to develop a unique method to extract pectin from beet pulp. This pectin is an excellent replacement for polyacrylates in dishwasher tablets and for the chemical components used to dye leather.
Thanks to this project, Dalli de Klok and Smit & Zoon can produce even more environmentally friendly. Moreover, the project provides Cosun with a high-value purpose for a by-product that is otherwise used in animal feed or the production of biogas.
This method of extracting pectin from beet pulp and giving it the desired properties proves that polyacrylates can easily be replaced with green alternatives. If this example inspires other manufacturers across the globe, an annual reduction of millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions is feasible.
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