This article will show the manufacturing process of a super absorbent polymer. Current synthesis methods are Copolymer chemistry, Gel polymerization, Solution polymerization, and Suspension polymerization.
Superabsorbent polymers are now commonly made from the polymerization of acrylic acid blended with sodium hydroxide in the presence of an initiator to form a poly-acrylic acid sodium salt (sometimes referred to as sodium polyacrylate). This polymer is the most common type of SAP made in the world today.
Other materials are also used to make a superabsorbent polymer, such as polyacrylamide copolymer, ethylene maleic anhydride copolymer, cross-linked carboxymethylcellulose, polyvinyl alcohol copolymers, cross-linked polyethylene oxide, and starch grafted copolymer of polyacrylonitrile to name a few. The latter is one of the oldest SAP forms created.
Today superabsorbent polymers are made using one of three primary methods: gel polymerization, suspension polymerization, or solution polymerization. Each of the processes has its respective advantages but all yield a consistent quality of the product.
A mixture of frozen acrylic acid, water, cross-linking agents, and UV initiator chemicals are blended and placed either on a moving belt or in large tubs. The liquid mixture then goes into a “reactor” which is a long chamber with a series of strong UV lights. The UV radiation drives the polymerization and cross-linking reactions. The resulting “logs” are sticky gels containing 60-70% water. The logs are shredded or ground and placed in various sorts of driers. The additional cross-linking agent may be sprayed on the particles’ surface; this “surface cross-linking” increases the product’s ability to swell under pressure—a property measured as Absorbency Under Load (AUL) or Absorbency Against Pressure (AAP). The dried polymer particles are then screened for proper particle size distribution and packaging. The gel polymerization (GP) method is currently the most popular method for making the sodium polyacrylate superabsorbent polymers now used in baby diapers and other disposable hygienic articles.
Solution polymers offer the absorbency of a granular polymer supplied in solution form. Solutions can be diluted with water prior to application and can coat most substrates or used to saturate them. After drying at a specific temperature for a specific time, the result is a coated substrate with super absorbency. For example, this chemistry can be applied directly onto wires and cables, though it is specially optimized for use on components such as rolled goods or sheeted substrates.
Solution-based polymerization is commonly used today for SAP manufacture of co-polymers, particularly those with the toxic acrylamide monomer. This process is efficient and generally has a lower capital cost base. The solution process uses a water-based monomer solution to produce a mass of reactant polymerized gel. The polymerization’s own exothermic reaction energy is used to drive much of the process, helping reduce manufacturing costs. The reactant polymer gel is then chopped, dried, and ground to its final granule size. Any treatments to enhance performance characteristics of the SAP are usually accomplished after the final granule size is created.
The suspension process is practiced by only a few companies because it requires a higher degree of production control and product engineering during the polymerization step. This process suspends the water-based reactant in a hydrocarbon-based solvent. The net result is that the suspension polymerization creates the primary polymer particle in the reactor rather than mechanically in post-reaction stages. Performance enhancements can also be made during, or just after, the reaction stage.