Paper falls apart when it is wet. So what makes paper handkerchiefs strong enough to withstand a sneeze? The answer is a polymer which stops fibres becoming waterlogged, giving the paper `wet strength’.
But the development, recently adopted for commercial production of watertight packaging papers for liquid foodstuffs, was not without its problems.
Haloalcholols, a by-product, contaminate the polymer reducing its effectiveness in absorbing liquid. Using biotechnology methods, developer Carbury Heme, of Cardiff, used two common strains of bacteria which have been built into the polymer production process. These convert the haloalchols into carbon dioxide, water and chlorine, which are removed from the polymer before adding it to the paper.
It is environmentally more acceptable than using untreated wet strength chemicals, and the treatment is cheaper than a new manufacturing process.
The development was achieved through the DTI’s Biotechnology Means Business initiative. The BMB helpline is 0800 432100.