A researcher at the Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University has come up with the idea of producing 100% Made-in-Thailand cat litter from cassava and aims to export it to the global market. The product effectively absorbs liquids and odors of cat urine, decomposes naturally, and is safe for cats and their owners. Coming up is sand for cat litter that indicates disease.
With prices of agricultural produce in decline, Thai researchers have found a way to add value to crops like cassava turning them into cat litter that is a necessary commodity for pet care.
“I am a cat lover and have been using cat litter products for over a decade. I noticed that practically 100% of cat litter on the market is imported and wondered why we weren’t manufacturing the product locally. I looked around at the agricultural products we had and tried various options like paddy husk or sugar cane pulp and found cassava to be ideal,” Dr. Lunjakorn Amornkitbamrung, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University disclosed to us the origins of the product now known by its trade name “Hide&Seek.”
“Cassava becomes very sticky when soaked. This is the quality that is needed when it comes to cat litter which needs to solidify and be absorbent. It is also a natural substance that can be discarded simply by flushing it down the lavatory.”
Not only has this innovation done wonders in increasing crop value for cassava farmers, but it also assures cat lovers who look for a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly product. It comes as no surprise that the cassava cat litter has received numerous awards such as the Best Inventions in Agriculture and Biology for the 2022 Fiscal Year organized by the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT), the 2021 Young Scientist Award from the Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Technology, and The Prime Minister’s Export Award for 2021 from the Ministry of Commerce.
Cassava cat litter – a new and healthy option
There is much to choose from in the cat litter market today from volcanic ash to pine pellets and even tofu litter. “Hide&Seek” cassava cat litter is the latest option that Dr. Lunjakorn is confident about when it comes to cats raised in condominium units or other limited spaces.
“Made from 100% cassava, our product is chemical free and is therefore safe for our feline friends and their owners. It also doesn’t produce dust from soil, rocks, or sands that can be toxic when inhaled. It solidifies easily which means it can be cleaned up and flushed away since it decomposes naturally. Most importantly, the cassava cat litter is better at absorbing odors than other products on the market that are made from other materials.”
Generating income for the Thai farmers
As a researcher specializing in chemistry, Dr. Lunjakorn was able to find the right technology to produce cat litter from cassava. The process began with breaking down the root crop into small pieces and drying them before crushing them into powder. The next step would be to use adequate heat and pressure to get small pellets used for cat litter.
“The benefit of using plant-based raw material is that the crops can be replaced. This is quite different from the products made from the quarried Bentonite clay which is a form of destruction of our natural resources.”
Replacement cultivation of cassava crops provides farmers with a steady income all year round. Dr. Lunjakorn intends to set up a cat litter factory in Chon Buri Province where cassava is planted.
“We’ve had talks with the farmers and assured them that we’d offer a price of over 10 baht per kilogram which is higher than the normal price they get at 4-5 baht. For that, they must cooperate by planting cassava with the desired quality to be used for the manufacturing of our product.”
Thai cat litter in the global market
The cat litter market is highly competitive. The Thai market alone is worth 800 million baht per year whereas the world market stands at around 280 billion baht per year.
“The market is highly competitive. The challenge is to find the right strategies to make our product known so that more people buy it,” said Dr. Lunjakorn.
“Hide&Seek” has been on the market for about 2 years. In its first year, its total sales reached 5 million baht and the amount doubled in the second year. Aside from the local market, the product has been exported to countries like Australia, Vietnam, and Malaysia and will soon be available in Italy and Japan as well.
Plans are underway to turn other crops into cat litter
With the success of cassava cat litter, other entrepreneurs are considering the option of adding value to their crops. According to Dr. Lunjakorn, this might be possible with sugarcane pulp or paddy husk but they don’t have the same level of stickiness which means some substances like tapioca flour might need to be added to the formula.
“We’ve had several people consulting us on various possibilities of turning materials like hemp or paddy husk into cat litter. These possibilities need to be studied so that other formulas can be developed in the future.”
Cat litter of the future might help indicate your cat’s health problems
Right now, Dr. Lunjakorn is hard at work on some improvements to his cat litter product.
“We are hoping to increase the value of our cat litter with an added feature that will enable cat owners to detect anything unusual with their cat early on before the condition worsens. The cat can then be taken to the vet in time to get treatment.”
The product being researched makes it possible to check the pH and glucose levels from the cat’s urine which shows results from the change in coloration for such ailments as kidney disease, urinary tract infection, and diabetes.
The extended research project is being funded by the National Research Council of Thailand’s Pilot Project for the Thai Inventors/ World Inventors Project for 2022 with Associate Professor Dr. Kanet Wongravee of the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University as the head of the project. The research is expected to be completed by the end of this year when a new product will be introduced to the market.
A 2.7 – kilogram bag of “Hide&Seek” cassava cat litter costs 220-250 baht and can last for 3 weeks per cat. The product is on sale at pet shops in various department stores and the product is also available at Thonglor Pet Hospital where it is branded as Dr. Choice and produced by OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturing).
By Chulalongkorn University