Scientists at the University of Bath have developed a new, sustainable material which is derived from xylose, found, among others, in wood. Xylose is the second most abundant sugar in nature.
The researchers, from the University’s Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies, say the polymer, is a bio-based member of the polyether family.
Its properties can be easily controlled and its applications are manifold. As a building block for polyurethane, it can be used in mattresses and shoe soles, but it can also offer a bio-derived alternative to polyethylene glycol, a chemical widely used in bio-medicine; or to polyethylene oxide, sometimes used as electrolyte in batteries.
According to the research team, additional functionality could be added by binding other chemical groups such as fluorescent probes or dyes to the sugar molecule, for biological or chemical sensing applications.
“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,” said study leader Dr Antoine Buchard, Royal Society university research fellow and reader at the CSCT. “This means that with this polymer, we can target a variety of applications, from packaging to healthcare or energy materials, in a more sustainable way.”
Like all sugars, xylose occurs in two forms that are mirror images of each other – named D and L. 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.
Already able to produce hundreds of grams of the material , the scientists say that production should be rapidly scalable. They have 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.
The study was published in the prestigious chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition (in open access) and was funded by the Royal Society and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.