Abigail Klein Leichman
May 2, 2012, Updated December 3, 2012

How can one product help people lose weight safely, grow crops with less water and dispose of diapers without harming the earth?

Two years ago, ISRAEL21c reported on an all-natural superabsorbent polymer (SAP) invented in Israel that can do all this and more.

Until our story appeared, the maker of this novel material, the Kiryat Gat-based Exotech Bio Solutions, had been unable to raise enough capital to make sufficient SAP for interested manufacturers.“We needed help being discovered,” co-CEO Mendy Axlerad tells ISRAEL21c.

As a result of our article, entrepreneurs in Europe and South America contacted Exotech and now are building factories to produce the unique Israeli product.

“A company from northern Portugal contacted us asking for a sample, and after we sent it, they said, ‘If you had a partner, would you build a factory?’ They came to visit us and we signed an agreement to build the first factory in the world to produce our SAP,” says Axlerad, who sees this as a stepping stone to all of environmentally conscious Europe.

“We expect to start production in seven to nine months from now, making 5,000 tons per year.”

And that’s not all. About half a year after that, a new German facility will start producing Exotech’s SAP and transfer it via pipeline to a new diaper factory next door. “Nothing like this exists anywhere else,” says Axlerad. “The raw material will move in a fully ecological way to produce the finished product.”

He adds that Exotech is selling only the rights to use the material. “It remains an Israeli technology. For me, this is important from a business and personal point of view.”

Bye-bye to petroleum-based products

Most super-absorbent materials are acrylic byproducts of oil, Axlerad explains. “This presents many disadvantages, from high costs to environmental harm. We developed a new way to make superabsorbents from natural materials and chemicals, using a technology based on water.”

Exotech’s SAP swells when wet and forms a gel to trap fluid. Unaffected by the fluctuations of oil prices, this technology is considerably cheaper,takes less energy to produce and results in a fully biodegradable material with many potential applications.

“We have a client in the United States looking to buy the product and start producing biodegradable diapers in small quantities to test out the market,” relates Axlerad. “They have good contacts with other US market suppliers. For us, this is very big progress.”

There is also news in SAP’s potential for farming. Exotech just signed an agreement with a South American company to develop the product into absorbent underground reservoirs for crops.

“One of the bigger problems with watering is that you don’t know when you’ll have enough rainfall,” Axlerad says. “So you must irrigate, but plantsdo not retain water in a consistent way. Our material permits a new concept in irrigation to manage the water when you have too much and release water when you have too little. The plants make their decision to take water from the reservoir created with our material, depending on their needs.”

Israel’s Volcani Institute-Agricultural Research Organization found this product reduces water consumption by 60-80 percent, “which is of interest not only in Israel but all over the world,” Axlerad points out.

An added benefit is that the SAP material degrades at the end of the season into ammonia, a natural fertilizer.

A European university recently released results of its study on the material, showing the Israeli SAP meets European Union standards for biodegradability, with no toxic residuals.

No need to forgo that cookie

Several years ago, the six-employee Exotech partnered with Boston-based PureTech Ventures to form Gelesis, a corporation that developed a pill to treat obesity using the SAP. The pill expands in the stomach, causing a feeling of fullness, and is eliminated after several hours.

“Now they are working to get financing,” Axlerad says. “We tested the pill in vitro, in vivo and then in small animals and big animals, and all results were positive. We finished the protocols to start clinical studies in human beings, which is a little complicated and very expensive. I am feeling very positive about obtaining enough financing to start the project.”

This market is worth billions, considering that in United States, 30 percent of the population is considered obese.

Meanwhile, Exotech Israel is developing SAP as a food additive to give the body-conscious age group from 15 to 25 the ability to eatcommercially baked goodies without gaining pounds. Putting a bit of the plant-based SAP in the standard recipe means that when it mixes with liquids in the stomach, one serving expands in volume four or five times over.

“I presented this idea to a big producer of biscuits and cookies overseas, and they were very excited,” says Axlerad. “It’s a green card to the world of dietary pleasure. It’s a way down the road, but not as long as a medical device because it’s not a pharmaceutical; it’s food.”

The company is open to investors but mainly seeks collaborators. “If someone can give us new horizons, we are ready to talk,” says Axlerad.

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