I-Corps: Natural product-based, mechanically-diverse degradable engineering materials
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The broader impact/commercial potential of this I-Corps project will be the use of degradable natural product-based materials for the reduction of pollution stemming from lost and discarded plastic goods in the environment. Natural product-based polycarbonates have significant potential environmental and societal impact, as they are made from natural products, reducing the dependency of polymeric materials on petroleum-based feedstocks. Another advantage of these polycarbonate materials is that upon degradation, they reproduce natural products and carbon dioxide, giving the potential for environmental resorption. The commercial potential of degradable polymer materials is extensive when they can be produced rapidly and have broadly-tunable mechanical properties, allowing for their use in a diverse range of commercial products, from disposable food containers to high performance engineering materials.This I-Corps project involves a safe, sustainable solution to the challenge of durable plastic materials that can foul and damage marine and other environments. This I-Corps technology involves the use of abundant natural products to produce polymer networks and composite materials having a range of physical and mechanical properties, and a programmed disintegration pathway. Synthetic strategies have been developed to transform glucose, quinic acid, and other natural products into multi-functional monomers that can be rapidly polymerized using photochemically- or thermally-initiated crosslinking to afford unique polycarbonate materials. Through the use of molds during crosslinking, these materials can be fabricated into many shapes and sizes. Polycarbonates with mechanical characteristics from a rubbery elastomer to a rigid plastic can be achieved by varying the crosslinking conditions. Hydrolytic degradation times can be tuned, depending on the crosslink density and hydrophilicity. These materials have also demonstrated no negative effects on the growth of cells. In summary, a combination of simple fabrication techniques and rapid, reliable chemistry can be employed to obtain a versatile and non-toxic natural family of materials with a breadth of physical and mechanical properties, generating commercial promise in a wide range of applications.