Posted by Stanford
A new process makes hydrogels out of cheaper materials. Tests show they can be useful for more applications, including wine-making and firefighting.
Hydrogels are gelatinous amalgams of cross-linked polymers that can absorb and hold large quantities of water. They’re useful in absorbent disposable diapers, as well as soft contact lenses.
Were it not for factors including high manufacturing costs, hydrogels could find even broader commercial application. The synthetic polymers now used for their production are often expensive or difficult to make on an industrial scale, and frequently present environmental and safety concerns. But those limitations may soon vanish.
A team of researchers has created new hydrogels that incorporate two abundant and inexpensive basic ingredients: a cellulose polymer derived from natural sources such as wood chips and agricultural waste; and colloidal silica, a liquid suspension of nanoscale particles derived from sand.