BATH, England—Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a sustainable polymer using the second most abundant sugar in nature, xylose.
The polymer can serve as a building block for polyurethane, used in mattresses and shoe soles; as a bio-derived alternative to polyethylene glycol, a chemical widely used in bio-medicine; or to polyethylene oxide, sometimes used as electrolyte in batteries, according to a statement from Bath's Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies.
Like all sugars, xylose occurs in two forms that are mirror images of each other—named D and L, the researchers explained.
The new polymer uses the naturally occurring D-enantiomer of xylose, however the researchers have shown that combining it with the L-form makes the polymer even stronger.
According to the researchers, hundreds of grams of the material can readily be produced and production could be rapidly scaled up.
"This polymer is particularly versatile because its physical and chemicals properties can be tweaked easily, to make a crystalline material or more of a flexible rubber, as well as to introduce very specific chemical functionalities," said study leader Antoine Buchard, Royal Society university research fellow and reader at the CSCT.
"Until now this was very difficult to achieve with bio-derived polymers," he added. "This means that with this polymer, we can target a variety of applications, from packaging to health care or energy materials, in a more sustainable way."
The research team has filed a patent for their technology and is seeking industrial partners to help scale up production and explore the applications of the new materials.
The study was published in chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition (in open access). It was funded by the Royal Society and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of U.K. Research and Innovation.