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Biodegradation of Functionalized Nanocellulose

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journal contribution
posted on 20.07.2021, 15:04 by Benjamin P. Frank, Casey Smith, Emily R. Caudill, Ronald S. Lankone, Katrina Carlin, Sarah Benware, Joel A. Pedersen, D. Howard Fairbrother
Nanocellulose has attracted widespread interest for applications in materials science and biomedical engineering due to its natural abundance, desirable physicochemical properties, and high intrinsic mineralizability (i.e., complete biodegradability). A common strategy to increase dispersibility in polymer matrices is to modify the hydroxyl groups on nanocellulose through covalent functionalization, but such modification strategies may affect the desirable biodegradation properties exhibited by pristine nanocellulose. In this study, cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) functionalized with a range of esters, carboxylic acids, or ethers exhibited decreased rates and extents of mineralization by anaerobic and aerobic microbial communities compared to unmodified CNFs, with etherified CNFs exhibiting the highest level of recalcitrance. The decreased biodegradability of functionalized CNFs depended primarily on the degree of substitution at the surface of the material rather than within the bulk. This dependence on surface chemistry was attributed not only to the large surface area-to-volume ratio of nanocellulose but also to the prerequisite surface interaction by microorganisms necessary to achieve biodegradation. Results from this study highlight the need to quantify the type and coverage of surface substituents in order to anticipate their effects on the environmental persistence of functionalized nanocellulose.