Scientists Develop Tunable Sustainable Polymer Based on Sugar
Scientists from University of Bath's Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies have made a sustainable polymer using the second most abundant sugar in nature, xylose.
Not only does the new nature-inspired material reduces reliance on crude oil products, but its properties can also be easily controlled to make the material flexible or crystalline.
New Polymer Suitable for Variety of Applications
The polymer, from the polyether family, has a variety of applications, including as a building block for polyurethane, used in mattresses and shoe soles; as a bio-derived alternative to polyethylene glycol, a chemical widely used in bio-medicine; or to polyethylene oxide, sometimes used as electrolyte in batteries.
The team says additional functionality could be added to this versatile polymer by binding other chemical groups such as fluorescent probes or dyes to the sugar molecule, for biological or chemical sensing applications.
The team can easily produce hundreds of grams of the material and anticipate that production would be rapidly scalable.
Versatile Polymer with Tweakable Properties
This polymer is particularly versatile because its physical and chemicals properties can be tweaked easily, to make a crystalline material or more of a flexible rubber, as well as to introduce very specific chemical functionalities. Until now this was very difficult to achieve with bio-derived polymers.
Dr Antoine Buchard, Royal Society University research fellow and reader at the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies, led the study.
Buchard said, “We’re very excited that we’ve been able to produce this sustainable material from a plentiful natural resource – wood. We can target a variety of applications, from packaging to healthcare or energy materials, in a more sustainable way.”
The polymer uses the naturally occurring D-enantiomer of xylose, however the researchers have shown that combining it with the L-form makes the polymer even stronger.
The research team has filed a patent for their technology and is now interested in working with industrial collaborators to further scale up production and explore the applications of the new materials.