Gymnast of chemicals, the awesome hydrogel is a 3D network of hydrophilic polymers like a giant molecule that can swell in water and hold at least 10% of water while maintaining a well-defined structure. Medical hydrogels currently dominate hydrogel publicity, patents, and research, but the rest will become a larger business 2022–2042. It is time to read the brand new IDTechEx report.
Alternative terms are crosslinked hydrophilic polymer CHP and super absorbent polymer SAP though the more pedantic scholars argue that these terms even embrace forms unable to hold as much as 10% water. Mainstream hydrogels absorb up to 1000 times their weight in water, releasing it in a controlled way yet barely dissolving in water. They can grab and transport selected elements, molecules, nanoparticles.
Some are hard as glass only when you jump on them, and others have shape memory. Hydrogels’ magical properties and applications depend on formula, crosslinking agent, synthesis route, and bonding chosen. For example, soft robotics can have self-healing, sensing, stretchable skin disturbingly like our own.
Which of the applicational sectors will gain hydrogel market share and why? What are enabling technologies broadly applicable? Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx, advises: ‘Cutting across most applicational sectors, self-healing and membrane hydrogels turn out to be extremely important for the future. Hydrogels can be tailored to phase changing, shape memory, toxigen and rare metal-grabbing, and more. The properties can be useful in the new structural electronics and many sensors.’
‘Hydrogel membranes are candidates for desalination, flexible supercapacitors, future batteries, fuel cells, uranium extractors from water and other devices. We find that water management, soft robotics, electronics, and electrics are among the particularly attractive hydrogel markets ahead. The dark side includes some hydrogels creating toxigens and not being properly tested for toxicity. Some compete poorly with non-hydrogel alternatives.’
Das continues: ‘We are sure that one-billion-dollar businesses can be made at the new hydrogel frontiers by those identifying the best gaps in the market and protecting their intellectual property. Currently, there is minimal patenting by researchers outside medical. Participants will benefit society, from smart cities to ample food and water, electricity with zero-emission and so much more because a vast number of hydrogel variants will be tailored to a large variety of newly-targeted needs.’
The report, researched by PhD level multilingual IDTechEx analysts worldwide, finds that all major applicational sectors of hydrogels are growing, but only some are gaining market share. Its detailed study of the 2021–2022 research pipeline shows how the impact can only be understood with a 20-year view, expressed in new infograms, roadmaps and forecasts. Understand the demand side, such as wearable technology needing stretchable hydrogel components.
Will photovoltaics follow the sun and keep cool with nothing more than hydrogel overlayers? Will they reverse desertification? The approach is balanced, facing head-on the toxicity problems of some hydrogels, recognising strongly competing materials for many needs such as anti-fouling paint, capturing precious metals from dirty water, and clean water from the air. Newly trending common themes such as self-healing and membranes are well examined.
No, hydrogels do not stop at glamorous medical procedures and keeping your plants wet. Careful study of the rest can lead you to bigger opportunities, sometimes with fewer emerging competitors and better leveraging your existing skills. Only this up-to-date report has that big picture beyond medical.