Dissolution and regeneration of wool keratin in ionic liquids†
Wool keratin, a natural biopolymer, is potentially an important renewable source of raw materials for the polyamide plastics industry. Large quantities of non-spinnable and short fibers of wool are discarded globally and hence are available as low value waste materials. In this study, we have investigated different solvents, including ionic liquids and deep eutectic mixtures, for the dissolution and processing of wool. The results show that substantial dissolution of wool (up to 475 mg wool per gram of solvent) can be obtained in the 1-allyl-3-methylimidazolium dicyanamide [AMIM][dca] ionic liquid at 130 °C. Our studies also indicated enhanced dissolution (an additional 50–100 mg g−1) of wool upon the addition of a reducing agent to the ionic liquids. Water insoluble fractions (20–40%) were obtained on the addition of water to the dissolved wool. This regenerated fraction was characterized for structural and chemical changes and found to contain a larger fraction of β-sheets and random coils than the starting material. The water soluble fraction was characterised and the results indicated the presence of fragments of low molecular weight polypeptide chains.