Reversible pH-Responsive Hydrogels of Softwood Kraft Lignin and Poly[(2-dimethylamino)ethyl Methacrylate]-based Polymers

<p>Softwood kraft lignin (SKL) pH-responsive hydrogels were prepared through controlled aggregation using poly[2-(dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate] (PDMAEMA) and poly(2-(dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate)-<i>block</i>-poly(ethylene oxide)-<i>block</i>-poly(2-(dimethylamino) ethyl methacrylate) triblock copolymer (PDMAEMA-<i>co</i>-PEO-<i>co</i>-PDMAEMA). At low SKL concentrations, the SKL/polymer (PDMAEMA and PDMAEMA-<i>co</i>-PEO-<i>co</i>-PDMAEMA) aqueous solutions exhibited pH-dependent aggregation arising from the formation of strong intermolecular hydrogen bonds. Decreasing the SKL/polymer weight ratio resulted in the pH-reversible soluble-insoluble (S-I) transition to become a soluble-insoluble-soluble (S-I-S) transition, which upon increasing the SKL concentration resulted in hydrogel formation. Under neutral conditions relatively strong hydrogels were formed, which upon either increasing or decreasing solution pH resulted in the hydrogels collapsing to liquid solutions, but were readily reformed upon neutralization. The effects of polymer structure, concentration, and intermolecular interactions on solution behavior and gelation are thoroughly discussed.</p>