SusChEM: Resourceful Polymers Derived from Polyhydroxyl Natural Products
Organic polymer materials, commonly thought of as plastics, are of critical importance to every aspect of human life, from the clothes that we wear to the computers that we use to the tires on which we drive to the devices through which medicines are administered. Two key challenges with polymer materials are their production from petrochemical sources, which are non-renewable, and their persistence in the environment. To address these challenges, Professors Wooley, Darensbourg, and Dr. Sun of Texas A&M University are designing strategies to produce polymer materials from natural building blocks while also incorporating degradable linkages that regenerate those natural building blocks once the material has completed its useful lifetime. This project includes research and educational components to impact fundamental knowledge about polymer materials across the disciplines of chemistry and engineering.The research team is developing synthetic chemistry approaches to the production of a series of polycarbonates and polyphosphoesters that originate from renewable resources, exhibit novel chemical, physical and mechanical properties, and undergo hydrolytic breakdown to biologically-beneficial or benign by-products. In one direction, this project combines polyhydroxyl natural products as the monomeric building blocks and carbonates as the linkages. Hydrolytic degradation of the resulting polymers produces the polyhydroxyl compound plus carbon dioxide. In a second direction, phosphoester linkages are utilized, again borrowing from Nature, in phosphoesters commonly found in biological macromolecules, such as DNA or RNA. The research activities include 1) the synthesis of functional monomers from polyhydroxyl natural products, 2) the transformation of those monomers into linear, branched or crosslinked polymer materials by either step-growth condensation or chain-growth ring-opening polymerizations, 3) rigorous characterization studies to determine the compositions, structures, physicochemical and mechanical properties; and 4) the study of hydrolytic stabilities and degradation products.