Clickable polymer scaffolds enable Ce recovery with peptide ligands†
Rare earth elements (REEs) are a vital part of many technologies with particular importance to the renewable energy sector and there is a pressing need for environmentally friendly and sustainable processes to recover and recycle them from waste streams. Functionalized polymer scaffolds are a promising means to recover REEs due to the ability to engineer both transport properties of the porous material and specificity for target ions. In this work, REE adsorbing polymer scaffolds were synthesized by first introducing poly(glycidyl methacrylate) (GMA) brushes onto porous polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) surface through activator generated electron transfer atom transfer radical polymerization (AGET ATRP). Azide moieties were then introduced through a ring opening reaction of GMA. Subsequently, REE-binding peptides were conjugated to the polymer surface through copper catalyzed azide alkyne cycloaddition (CuAAC) click chemistry. The presence of GMA, azide, and peptide was confirmed through Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Polymer scaffolds functionalized with the REE-binding peptide bound cerium, while polymer scaffolds functionalized with a scrambled control peptide bound significantly less cerium. Importantly, this study shows that the REE binding peptide retains its functionality when bound to a polymer surface. The conjugation strategy employed in this work can be used to introduce peptides onto other polymeric surfaces and tailor surface specificity for a wide variety of ions and small molecules.