Pharmaceutical grade sodium bicarbonate, essential for hemodialysis

Sodium bicarbonate, of which Solvay has been a long-time producer, is a well-known cooking and cleaning ingredient. But it is also used in a wide range of applications in healthcare, too - including hemodialysis.

Hemodialysis is on the rise. A mature population and increasing access to medical treatments means that there are more and more failing kidneys around the world requiring assistance to rid blood of its impurities (urea and creatinine, along with excess water). It is estimated that hemodialysis patients will increase from 3 million in 2017 to 5 million by 2025 globally. And one thing that treatment providers cannot do without in order to care for all these patients is pharmaceutical grade sodium bicarbonate.

NaHCO₃ for better health

Bicar® Pharma is Solvay’s sodium bicarbonate for healthcare – a segment for which the Group provides a number of products and solutions. This simple NaHCO₃ salt molecule is highly useful as both an active ingredient (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient or API, to be precise) and an excipient – typically in effervescent drugs: sodium bicarbonate is what makes your tablet fizz in a glass of water, and as an API, the molecule is a potent buffer against acidity, so you’ll find it in acid reducing drugs.

But as mentioned, the other major healthcare application of sodium bicarbonate is for hemodialysis. This is a process where end-stage renal disease patients are regularly hooked up to a machine that purifies their blood externally because their kidneys are no longer capable of doing it. Inside that machine, two types of concentrates (Part A and Part B) are gradually dissolved into a fluid that removes the impurities from the blood without any direct contact thanks to an extremely thin polymer membrane (incidentally, Solvay makes those too).

In that equation, the Part B ingredient is… sodium bicarbonate. “It is used in hemodialysis for its medical properties of course, to provide electrolytes and stabilize pH, but the fact that it’s a completely non-toxic and safe product that is actually naturally present in our blood is undeniably an added benefit,” explains Stefania Tornelli, Strategic Marketing at Solvay’s Soda Ash & Derivatives global business unit.

Sodium bicarbonate is used in hemodialysis for its medical properties, but the fact that it’s a completely non-toxic and safe product that is naturally present in our blood is undeniably an added benefit.

Stefania Tornelli, Strategic Marketing, Soda Ash & Derivatives, Solvay

A prime pharmaceutical grade ingredient

As explained above, sodium bicarbonate is a common household product. Solvay sells it to customers in segments ranging from animal feed to flue gas cleaning (industrial exhaust treatment) and of course the food industry. But when it comes to healthcare, though the molecule remains the same, there are very specific procedures to make it ‘pharmaceutical grade’. 

“Pharma grade bicarbonate is a historical segment for Solvay, therefore Bicar® Pharma benefits from high certification standards, complete traceability and consistent quality,” explains Stefania. “The procedures are strict and involve things like stability studies and packaging the product in an overpressured room.” Furthermore, Solvay facilitates this by offering additional services to the medical industry in order to ensure products meet quality standards and regulatory requirements.


Going back to hemodialysis, Solvay’s customers for Bicar® Pharma are global providers of this treatment, who generally offer complete solutions comprising the machine, the ingredients and sometimes the entire value chain, including the treatment center itself. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Solvay is a trusted manufacturer of pharmaceutical grade sodium bicarbonate for hemodialysis, and growth is strong in Asia. “The number of end-stage renal disease patients [in Asia] is growing rapidly, yet in certain countries, access to hemodialysis remains very limited,” adds Stefania. “So there is still lots to be done to help more patients.”