Main content area

Yellowing and brightness reversion of celluloses: CO or COOH, who is the culprit?

Ahn, Kyujin, Zaccaron, Sara, Zwirchmayr, Nele S., Hettegger, Hubert, Hofinger, Andreas, Bacher, Markus, Henniges, Ute, Hosoya, Takashi, Potthast, Antje, Rosenau, Thomas
Cellulose 2019 v.26 no.1 pp. 429-444
catalytic activity, cellulose, color, cotton, models, moieties, pH, pulp, temperature
Literature is strongly contradictory about the molecular reasons for yellowing and brightness reversion of pure (lignin- and hemicellulose-free) celluloses, such as in highly bleached pulps, bacterial cellulose, or cotton linters. While oxidized groups—carbonyls (CO) and carboxyls (COOH)—have been recognized as the initiators of yellowing, they are generally always found together; thus, their effects are permanently superimposed in real-world cellulose. For this reason, their individual contributions could not be reliably determined. To tackle this conundrum, we have used a two-stage study: the employment of glucopyranose-derived model compounds and the use of special cellulosic pulps. Both substrates had either only carbonyl functions, only carboxyl functions, or defined ratios of both functionalities present at the same time. The model compounds alone already provided strong indications of the CO-related and COOH-related effects, and further confirmation was obtained by the pulp study. Here, in regard to the polymer case, the carbonyl groups are the minimum functional unit in cellulose responsible for chromophore generation (termed as the “CO effect”). The carbonyl groups are the precursors for the chromophores that are formed later upon yellowing/aging. Chromophore formation increases strictly linearly with the carbonyl content at a constant given carboxyl content. Carboxyl groups alone (i.e., in the absence of carbonyl groups) are fully innocent regarding the color generation. However, they have a strong promotive action when carbonyl groups are present (termed as the “COOH effect”), which includes acidic catalysis and an additional activation by electronic effects. The general roles of CO and COOH are the same for all aging types (e.g., thermal, acidic, or alkaline), while the respective rates of chromophore generation evidently depend on various parameters such as the temperature, medium, and pH value.