Old dog, new trick

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WASHINGTON – Super Slurper, a cornstarch-based superabsorbent polymer invented by Agricultural Research Service scientists over 30 years ago, continues to fan the entrepreneurial spirit.
New use. Take, for example, Nicholas Yeager, president of Artifex Equipment, a Penngrove, Calif., company specializing in book and document restoration.
This fall, Yeager’s company began mass-producing Zorbix, a sheetlike product based on Super Slurper that can dry out waterlogged library materials before destructive molds take hold.
Zorbix’s commercialization is the latest chapter in a storied history of Super Slurper spinoffs that followed a USDA patent on the starch polymer in 1976.
Spinoffs. Among those spinoffs were disposable diapers, wound dressings, fuel filters and seed coatings.
The Zorbix story began in 2003, when Yeager was contacted about using Super Slurper as a fast, new way of drying books exposed to flooding, leaky pipes and other watery disasters.
Intrigued, Yeager ran a simple test: He pressed Super Slurper onto the pages of a paperback novel that he had wetted. It worked, and Yeager wanted to explore the polymer’s potential further.
In studies, Yeager changed Super Slurper’s flake form into another that allowed the creation of thin, flexible sheets, which he named Zorbix.
In his tests and independent studies, the sheets worked as well as or better than other drying methods, including vacuum drying, poultices and blotters.

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