Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Kislev 5766 - December 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Observations: Solving the Environmental Problem of Disposable Diapers
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Exotech Bio Solutions Ltd., an Israeli start-up high-tech company, claims that it has solved the main environmental problem of disposable diapers with its biodegradable diaper.

"The problem with a disposable diaper isn't the cotton from which it is made, or the paper that covers it, or the plastic sticker, or even the plastic bag in which it is sold," Exotech CEO Zvi Meiri told Globes. "The problematic component of a disposable diaper is the absorbent material."

The absorbent material is a special powder that is in the cotton. It does the main work of absorbing the fluids in the diaper. The product currently used is made largely from acrylic acid, a petroleum product. Acrylic acid is not biodegradable even after 500 years. Every diaper has 14 grams of acrylic acid. 700 million diapers are sold each year in Israel and 22 billion are sold in the US. That is a lot of acrylic acid.

"Our material, a macromolecular compound called `ethylene- bis-stearamide' (EBS) is as absorbent as acrylic acid," says Meiri. "It can be added to a diaper in the same production process. There is no difference for diaper manufacturers, only advantages: 25 percent of EBS degrades within eight weeks; it's cheaper than acrylic acid; there is no shortage, as is the case with acrylic acid during oil shortages; and it doesn't release free monomers that are liable to be health risks."

Exotech founder Mandy Axelrad is an engineer. He knew two Romanian scientists, polymer researchers, Prof. Mircea-Dan Bucevschi and his wife Prof. Monica Colt. Axelrad proposed that they come to Israel to join his company and jointly try to solve the diaper problem. The couple already had 100 patents for polymers, but no resources to apply them. They needed only a few months to come up with the answer.

Meiri was hired to make a going business.

EBS looks rather like jello granules; it is comprised of gelatin and stearine, a petroleum product more available than acrylic acid. Both substances dissolve in water.

EBS's secret is the link between the polymers comprising a repeating molecule (called a monomer). Exotech's polymers, of which EBS is one, have a unique 3D link, while the internal links both within the monomers and between them are weak, enabling bacteria to break them down into their composite molecules: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Tests conducted by Exotech found that within eight weeks, bacteria degrade a quarter of the compound. This is a normal test for examining how environmentally friendly a compound is.

Meiri also told Globes, "Degradation is a lengthy process that is accelerated by bacteria in garbage dumps. There's no way for the diaper to degrade before being thrown away."

Exotech is trying to set up its own factory to produce the powder, or sign a contract with a medium-sized or large international diaper maker. A third option is to cooperate with a chemicals company not presently active in the diaper business. The company is negotiating with potential investors, and has launched a pilot production facility in Kiryat Gat.

Investors were interested in Exotech not only because of diapers, but because its polymer has a range of additional applications in entirely different fields. For example, if a plant is planted in a bed impregnated with EBS, the water does not evaporate. Tests conducted by Exotech found that plants can absorb EBS-impregnated water, thereby saving, according to Exotech, 35-80 percent of water consumption. The degrading process also releases ammonia, which can serve as a fertilizer.

Bandages also have to absorb liquids. Burn wounds, pressure wounds, and diabetes wounds constantly excrete liquids that must be absorbed. Bandages containing Exotech's compounds can absorb liquids for two to three days without needing to be replaced, allowing patients to be released during the interim. Exotech is also examining the possibility of impregnating bandages with controlled-release pharmaceuticals for treating wounds.

Exotech's compound can help uniformly disperse water using to cure concrete, thereby preventing cracks when it sets.

Exotech certainly has an interesting story to tell, but so do many other companies. Hopefully it will bring at least some of its ideas to market.


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