Blend configuration in functional polymeric materials with a high lignin content
Lignins upgrade the lignocellulosic cell-wall domains in all vascular plants; they embody 20–30% of terrestrial organic carbon. For 50 years, mistaken assumptions about the configuration of lignin have hindered the development of useful polymeric materials with a lignin content above 40 wt%. Now, polymeric materials composed only of methylated softwood lignin derivatives can exhibit better tensile behavior than polystyrene. Marked improvements may be achieved with small quantities (5–10 wt%) of miscible blend components as simple as poly(ethylene glycol). These observations contradict commonly held views about crosslinking or hyper-branching in lignin chains. The hydrodynamic compactness of the macromolecular lignin species arises from powerful noncovalent interactions between the lignin substructures. Individual lignin components undergo association to form macromolecular complexes that are preserved in plastics with a very high lignin content. Material continuity results from interpenetration between the peripheral components in adjoining lignin complexes. Through interactions with the peripheral domains, miscible blend components modulate the strength and ductility of these utterly original lignin-based plastics.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Bio-resources: feeding a sustainable chemical industry