According to an intriguing article in the Financial Times (scroll all the way down to find it), our domesticated feline friends may soon be digging in polymer-based kitty litter. The new litter is being developed to make the business of cat litter manufacturing more eco-friendly.
For those of us with cats for pets, it’s not surprising to hear that cat litter is an enormous market. But in terms of environmental effects, it’s not a good one. The granules in kitty litter are produced mostly from sedimentary clay that comes from countries that don’t have stringent rules — or don’t implement them — for quarrying and mineral processing. (To learn more about what’s in kitty litter, check out C&EN “What’s That Stuff?” article on kitty litter.)
But a project, funded and organized by the Technology Strategy Board in collaboration with Imperial College London and the pet company Bob Martin, is looking to change the environmental impact of kitty litter. The project will launch a new kind of kitty litter made from â€œquarry fines.â€ These quarry fine are the dust and fine particles that emerge as waste at many working British quarries.
As the article by FT‘s science editor Clive Cookson reports:
Christopher Cheesemanâ€™s [link is ours] team at Imperial has found a way to bind fines into granules using an organic binding agent and to coat them with super-absorbent polymer. ‘We have made the quarry waste into an effective carrier for a small amount of active ingredient, the super-absorbent polymer,’ he says.
The new litter comes with the required above 80% water absorption capacity and, much to the delight of pet owners, doesn’t produce dust in the litter tray.
Bob Martin is anticipating to set up a small number of production plants in close proximity to the quarries. Each quarry should be able to annually produce 15,000 tonnes of cat litter. The total U.K. market annually demands 280,000 tonnes a year, and the U.S. uses 5 million tonnes in the same time frame (which seems to suggest the British are more feline-loving than the Americans). Bob Martin hopes to double its European sales within a year of the product going commercial.
Kitty litter may just be the beginning for this eco-friendly polymer technology. The researchers are also looking into other applications, such as soil remediation products and de-icing grit.
Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.