Bath, UK – Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a bio-polyether, which can serve as a feedstock for urethane-based materials as used, for example, in mattresses and shoe soles.
The xylose-derived product also offers an alternative to polyethylene glycol and polyethylene oxide, added an 11 Jan statement from the university’s centre for sustainable and circular technologies (CSCT).
Like all sugars, xylose occurs in two forms that are mirror images of each other – named D and L, the researchers explained.
The new 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.
Additional functionality could be added by binding groups such as fluorescent probes or dyes to the sugar molecule, for biological or chemical sensing applications, the Bath team further pointed out.
According to the researchers, hundreds of grammes of the material can readily be produced and production could be rapidly scaled up.
“We have been able to produce this sustainable material from a plentiful natural resource, wood,” said study leader Dr Antoine Buchard, Royal Society university research fellow and reader at the CSCT.
“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,” said Buchard.
“Until now this was very difficult to achieve with bio-derived polymers,” he added. “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.”
The research team has filed a patent for their technology and is seeking industrial partners to help scale up production and explore the applications of the new materials.
The study was published in chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition (in open access). It was funded by the Royal Society and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.