In recent years, scientists and industry have focused on developing bioplastics as a replacement for synthetic ones to help protect the environment. However, they are expensive and have less scope of use.
The strategy — developed by researchers from National Institute of Technology (Warangal), SASTRA Deemed University (Thanjavur) and Central University of Jammu, led by Dr. S. Nagarajan of NIT, Warangal — promises to overcome this problem.
The process involves use of natural monomers and a bio-catalyst called Novozyme 435. It is a lipase obtained from yeast called Candida Antarctica. While preparing oligoesters as part of regular experiments, researchers observed formation of a viscous solution which was behaving very similar to molecular self-assembly: disordered molecules were adopting a defined structure on their own.
The new protocol involves two steps. First, bio-based monomers, C-glycosylfuran and diacids, were subject to poly-condensation to form high molecular weight compound in the presence of bio-catalyst. The output was then made to undergo self-assembly assisted polymerization to realize the desired product. Conventionally, vegetable oils, carbohydrates, lignin and cardanol are used for producing bio-based polymers. The process is, however, expensive and not environment friendly.
“We have used environmental friendly bio-based monomers, C-glycosylfuran derived from monosaccharides and a bio-catalyst. With this approach, we can generate cross-linked polymers and assorted products with varying properties can be produced by manipulating the design of oligoester. The products may find use for a range of applications in medical and food sectors,” explained by Dr. S. Nagarajan.
Converting bio-based monomers into value-added materials is important in sustainable chemistry. “The group has prepared bifunctional monomers, and which were converted into polymers using an enzyme catalyzed reaction. It is an efficient way of generating materials which have potential to make soft materials, and may find applications in near future," commented Dr. Praveen Kumar Vemula from Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Bangalore who is not a part of this study.