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The term water-soluble polymer (WSP) encompasses a wide range of synthetic, semisynthetic, and natural materials. These polymers share an important attribute: all are soluble in water. As a result, WSPs are broadly useful in most applications that involve water.
Water treatment is a major end use for synthetic WSPs, especially polyacrylamide and polyacrylic acid. Oil field applications (such as drilling muds) also consume substantial amounts of WSPs, but demand from this sector can be volatile. Consumption of guar gum is strongly linked to hydraulic fracturing activity, which in turn is linked to crude oil prices. Food applications—another major end use for WSPs—are dominated by natural polymers, including gelatin, xanthan gum, and gum arabic. As dietary fibers, these WSPs help reduce cholesterol levels; as functional ingredients, they serve as thickeners and stabilizers in yogurt and chocolate milk.