Today baby diapers are a high-tech product that’s attracting new customer groups all over the world. Companies are therefore competing more fiercely to make the best diapers. Evonik supplies the key ingredient and special know-how to stay in the running.
Away from cotton and cellulose, toward superabsorbing polymers: That would be a good way to describe the development of modern diapers—but it wouldn’t even be close to the whole story. Since the 1980s, when diaper manufacturers started using superabsorbers, there have been transformations on babies’ changing tables and in this fiercely competitive market. Today superabsorbers of the latest generation can absorb 500 times their own weight in liquid. Almost every diaper manufactured today contains a few grams of these granulates. And the granulate in every fifth diaper comes from Evonik Industries.
A great deal of know-how has led to modern diapers and their superabsorbers. Back in the early 1980s, the first-generation superabsorbers merely absorbed liquid especially well and then retained it under pressure. Second-generation superabsorbers could expand against pressure—that is, even when the baby was sitting on the diaper. In the third generation the transport of liquid was optimized, so that the entire diaper could be used even if it didn’t contain much cellulose. Today the primary goal is to make diapers that absorb liquid even faster and require even less material to guarantee long-lasting dryness.
Strategic Marketing Director,
Baby Care Business Line
That’s why Evonik is continuing to do research aimed at finding new and improved superabsorbers, and why it’s analyzing diaper designs from all over the world in its application laboratories. Why is it expending so much effort? Because of a demanding and steadily growing group of customers—not the children themselves, but their parents.
From Shanghai to São Paulo, a growing middle class with increasing disposable income is buying more and more modern diapers that promise dry baby bottoms, quieter nights and happier children. As a result, diaper manufacturers in new markets are competing to win over a growing number of customers. Increasing prosperity and rising local birthrates are driving this business. Whereas the diaper market in Western Europe and North America is growing by less than two percent, and in Japan incontinence products and baby diapers are being sold in equal numbers, the rest of the Asian market is growing by about eight percent annually—and the Chinese market is increasing by an impressive ten percent a year.
In these growth markets the manufacturers are trying to beat the competition by means of clever marketing and especially high-quality diapers. In many cases, the keys to success are materials that are very similar to textiles and powerful superabsorbers that make diapers even thinner and more absorbent. Children enjoy the wearing comfort, and parents enjoy having to change diapers less often. Manufacturers and dealers benefit too, because thinner diapers take up less of the fiercely contested space on supermarket shelves. And the environment also benefits, because more diapers fit into each delivery truck.
In general, the environmental balance sheet is playing an increasingly important role for the customers and manufacturers of consumer goods. Evonik is therefore continuing to work on environmental issues and giving its customers extensive information about its products’ CO₂ footprint, which has shrunk by 15 percent in the past four years. Thanks in part to yet another hidden piece of high tech in every fifth diaper that is sold.
Baby diapers are the biggest market for superabsorbers, followed by incontinence and hygiene products. But superabsorbers can do much more: They protect undersea cables from invasive seawater. And they absorb and bind the moisture that forms inside the packaging of poultry, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. These foods stay fresh longer. As water storage media in the soil, superabsorbers also make reliable harvests possible even in regions with a dry climate.