Every time a firefighter braves an inferno, a scientist wonders if a new material or special flame-resistant coating could be created to protect him. Today, armed with nanocomposite techniques and insights into bio-based materials, new classes of smart, adaptable super-surface coatings are possible, according to European researchers.
Teams from Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the UK investigated a new class of bio-based materials tailored to the needs of different fields, including medicine, the environment, electronics, manufacturing, and even health and safety applications.
These ground-breaking new materials are made up of extremely small layers of polysaccharides (a carbohydrate with a number of sugar molecules bonded together) coated with nanoparticles comprising other biological or mineral matter. When applied to the surface of other materials, to form a composite, the coating performs a very special role.
“The number of applications for this smart breed of new polymer compounds are boundless,” according to Dr Volker Ribitsch, University of Graz, Austria, who led EU-funded researchers in the Surface functionalisation of cellulose matrices using cellulose embedded nanoparticles (Surfuncell) project.
The six industrial and seven academic partners recently delivered the findings of their four demonstrators in the fields of pulp and paper, cellulosic yarns, cellulose films, and filter membranes.
Surfuncell investigated the effects of cellulose dissolution, structuration with nanoparticles and irreversible coatings. The project targeted, in particular, so-called surface compounds – where the compounding is strictly limited to the surface of the matrix polymer material. This, they predicted (accurately), would prevent deterioration of the compound structure, or matrices holding the materials together. Under different conditions, such as intense heat, cold or through other wear, tear and exposure, the chemical properties of the material could change and weaken the bond holding the compound together.
The improved properties of these materials, such as antimicrobial activity, selective adsorption, flame resistance, electrical conductivity, antimicrobial activity and barrier properties (for precise separation), could make them ideal for use in medical and hygiene devices, water-purification systems, as well as in the electronics industry.
“I’m confident, thanks to our open innovation approach, that our work will find its way into novel polymers and surface coatings, and also support wider nanoscience research,” says Dr Ribitsch.
Since the Surfuncell team had to start from the beginning with many aspects of its work, it called for new thinking and strategies to handle nanoparticles and to design nanostructured composite materials using renewable resources.
“The further we got into the project, the more important it became that the functional coatings not only reliably serve their purpose, but also serve the environment, which is especially good for a sustainable European industrial sector,” concludes Dr Ribitsch.
Project acronym: Surfuncell
Participants: Austria (Coordinator), France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, United Kingdom