In 1946, two chemical engineers and a chemist came up with a process for making artificial sponges to take the place of natural, sea sponges.
The formula to make a sponge includes salt crystals. During the processing, the salt crystals melt away – leaving the “holes” in the sponge.
The problem, however, is that the process to make the salt crystals requires a lot of heat. Previously, this heat came in the form of steam, but a team of scientists at the 3M plant in Tonawanda, New York came up with a way to make sponges that uses less water. They repurposed hot water that previously had gone to the sewer. That water is now used to heat up the salt solution before steam is used, and then it’s recycled back to the start of the process to be reused.
The new process has led to a 25 percent reduction in water usage at the Tonawanda plant. This also means less energy is consumed because less water has to be heated during the sponge making process.
Overall, process and equipment enhancements have enabled 3M Tonawanda to become the world’s largest sponge-making facility. Both ScotchBrite® and O-Cell-O™ sponges are manufactured here. In fact, the facility makes enough sponges to cover the distance from New York City to Los Angeles – every 21 days. Scotch-Brite sponges alone can now be found in over 150 million kitchens around the world, cleaning, protecting, and enhancing peoples’ homes and possessions.