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Activated carbon is used for everything from purifying drinking water to removing food odors drawn into kitchen fans. Now a researcher at the University of Gothenburg has found yet another area of use. It is Isabelle Simonsson who has discovered a way to use activated charcoal to remove the smell of pee in diapers.
She researched an odor molecule and discovered that it can remain in the liquid in the diaper and not cause a bad odor.
"The odor molecule is called para-cresol and is an organic, volatile hydrocarbon. It's the one that gives rise to the strong smell in pig breeding and in horse stables. Para-cresol is also found in human urine and is hydrophobic, meaning it avoids water. That is one of the reasons why it leaves the urine and diffuses into the surrounding air, which means that the smell spreads." says Isabelle Simonsson, in a press release.
To see which materials are the best at absorbing odor molecules in urine, Isabelle Simonsson, together with other researchers, tested different alternatives and one of them was activated carbon. It was good at attracting odor molecules and has the advantage of being both cheap and environmentally friendly.
"Our results demonstrate that there is a direct 'ion-specific effect' on the material's properties and adsorption capacity in synthetic urine. The activated carbon has a large surface area and that is advantageous when it needs to be able to adsorb the odor molecules." says Isabelle Simonsson.
At the moment it entails basic research, but in the future, it can not only give us odorless diapers but also be used in many industrial processes, for example, in the mining industry, water and sewage treatment, development of new hygiene articles, pharmaceuticals, and building materials.
But first, there are some problems that the researchers need to look into more closely.
"These results are promising, but there are obstacles on the way to an odor-free diaper. Like the color, for example, is it possible to sell a diaper that is black?" says Isabelle Simonsson.