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Cross-Linked and Shapeable Porous 3D Substrates from Freeze-Linked Cellulose Nanofibrils

Erlandsson, Johan, Françon, Hugo, Marais, Andrew, Granberg, Hjalmar, Wågberg, Lars
Biomacromolecules 2018 v.20 no.2 pp. 728-737
aerogels, beak, birds, cellulose, cellulose nanofibers, coatings, composite materials, crosslinking, deformation, freeze drying, freezers, magnetic fields, modulus of elasticity, oxidation, pyrroles, solenoids
Chemically cross-linked highly porous nanocellulose aerogels with complex shapes have been prepared using a freeze-linking procedure that avoids common post activation of cross-linking reactions and freeze-drying. The aerogel shapes ranged from simple geometrical three-dimensional bodies to swirls and solenoids. This was achieved by molding or extruding a periodate oxidized cellulose nanofibril (CNF) dispersion prior to chemical cross-linking in a regular freezer or by reshaping an already prepared aerogel by plasticizing the structure in water followed by reshaping and locking the aerogel into its new shape. The new shapes were most likely retained by new cross-links formed between CNFs brought into contact by the deformation during reshaping. This self-healing ability to form new bonds after plasticization and redrying also contributed to the mechanical resilience of the aerogels, allowing them to be cyclically deformed in the dry state, reswollen with water, and redried with good retention of mechanical integrity. Furthermore, by exploiting the shapeability and available inner structure of the aerogels, a solenoid-shaped aerogel with all surfaces coated with a thin film of conducting polypyrrole was able to produce a magnetic field inside the solenoid, demonstrating electromagnetic properties. Furthermore, by biomimicking the porous interior and stiff exterior of the beak of a toucan bird, a functionalized aerogel was created by applying a 300 μm thick stiff wax coating on its molded external surfaces. This composite material displayed a 10-times higher elastic modulus compared to that of the plain aerogel without drastically increasing the density. These examples show that it is possible to combine advanced shaping with functionalization of both the inner structure and the surface of the aerogels, radically extending the possible use of CNF aerogels.