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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

High Capacity Functionalized Protein Superabsorbents from an Agricultural Co-Product: A Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

Capezza, Antonio Jose; Cui, Yuxiao; Numata, Keiji; Lundman, Malin; Newson, William Roy; Olsson, Richard Tobias; Johansson, Eva; Hedenqvist, Mikael Stefan


Synthesis of superabsorbent particles from nontoxic wheat gluten (WG) protein, as an industrial co-product, is presented. A natural molecular cross-linker named genipin (a hydrogenated glycoside) is used together with a dianhydride (ethylenediaminetetraacetic EDTAD), to enable the preparation of a material with a network structure capable of swelling up to approximate to 4000% in water and approximate to 600% in saline solution. This represents an increase in swelling by over 10 times compared to the already highly absorbing gluten reference material. The carboxylation (using EDTAD) and the cross-linking of the protein result in a hydrogel with liquid retention capacity as high as 80% of the absorbed water remaining in the WG network on extensive centrifugation, which is higher than that of commercial fossil-based superabsorbents. The results also show that more polar forms of the reacted genipin are more effectively grafted onto the protein, contributing to the swelling and liquid retention. Microscopy of the materials reveals extensive nanoporosity (300 nm), contributing to rapid capillarity-driven absorption. The use of proteins from agricultural industries for the fabrication of sustainable protein superabsorbents is herein described as an emerging avenue for the development of the next generation daily-care products with a minimal environmental impact.


cross-linking; functionalization; proteins; superabsorbents; sustainability

Published in

Advanced Sustainable Systems
2020, Volume: 4, number: 9, article number: 2000110

      SLU Authors

      • Sustainable Development Goals

        Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Polymer Technologies

        Publication identifier


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