Polymers from sugars: cyclic monomer synthesis, ring-opening polymerisation, material properties and applications
Plastics are ubiquitous in modern society. However, the reliance on fossil fuels and the environmental persistence of most polymers make them unsustainable. Scientists are facing the challenge of developing cost-effective and performance-competitive polymers from renewable resources. Carbohydrates are a renewable feedstock with tremendous potential: sugars are widely available, environmentally benign and are likely to impart biocompatibility and degradability properties to polymers due to their high oxygen content. Sugars are also a feedstock with great structurally diversity and functionalisation potential that can enable fine tuning of the resulting polymer properties. In recent years, Ring-Opening Polymerisation (ROP) has emerged as the method of choice for the controlled polymerisation of renewable cyclic monomers, in particular lactones and cyclic carbonates, to allow the precise synthesis of complex polymer architectures and address commodity and specialist applications. This feature article gives an overview of sugar-based polymers that can be made by ROP. In particular, recent advances in the synthetic routes towards monomers that preserve the original carbohydrate core structure are presented. The performances of various homogeneous catalysts and the properties of the resultant polymers are given, and future opportunities highlighted for the development of both the materials and catalysts.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Most downloaded articles of 2017: Organic and Biological Chemistry