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Sustainable chemistries and biorenewable materials

We are developing new methods for chemical and materials synthesis, some of which are in close alignment with ongoing research efforts in sustainable nanomanufacturing. The goal of these projects is to develop green chemistries that offer advantages over conventional synthesis or materials while maintaining compatibility with scalable manufacturing and supply chains. Criteria for improving sustainability are guided by the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry including process development with safer solvents, biorenewable and biodegradable feedstocks, and catalysis. We are especially interested in mechanochemical methods for preparing multi-gram quantities of intermediates and products at ambient temperatures and with low energy consumption.

Our push toward greener plastics with low carbon footprint involve blending biorenewable polymers with a high fraction of cellulose nanofibers or CNFs. These can be cast into sheets that have similar or higher tensile strengths than petroleum-based thermoplastics, yet are fully degraded by soil bacteria. Esterified CNFs can also be prepared by mechanochemistry, and crosslinked or blended with other materials to create superhydrophobic coatings from fully biorenewable feedstocks.

nanoporous membranes

Left: FE-SEM image of cellulose nanofibers (CNFs) in cast film of CNF-pectin composite. Right: Spray deposition of oleic-acid modified CNFs as superhydrophobic, water-resistant coatings, as demonstrated with newspaper boats.