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2024 feb 09






Maria Cortes Ruiz
Maria Cortes Ruiz

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Defence of doctoral thesis: Maria Cortes Ruiz – Tailoring and Characterization of Polymer-linked Fibrillar Structures


The defense is taking place at F3, KTH, and is possible to follow via Zoom.

Opponent: Professor Gil Garnier, Monash University, Australia

Supervisor: Professor Lars Wågberg


The development of sustainable and renewable materials is paramount in today’s society. As the most abundant biopolymer on Earth, cellulose from cellulose-rich fibres is an excellent alternative for advanced and innovative material solutions. Nonetheless, competing with the impressive material properties and the low manufacturing costs of fossil-based plastics imposes great challenges. To increase the potential of cellulose fibres in a broader set of applications, the material properties of cellulose need to be tuned depending on the application. An in-depth study of the fibre structure and the application of different tailoring techniques is required to induce tailoring of the physical and chemical properties of the cellulose fibre materials. 

This thesis focuses on the structure-property relationship of fibrillar hydrogel networks as model structures for the delignified wet-fibre wall. First, a mathematical framework was developed to describe the characteristics of the swelling and mechanical behaviour of anisotropic fibrillar structures, considering the fibril aspect ratio, surface chemistry of the fibrils, and electrolyte concentration in the system. A chemical functionalisation was then introduced to the fibrillar structure, which provided the CNFs with colloidal stability and the ability to participate in free radical polymerisation with monomers and telechelic oligomers. As a result, fibrillar networks were crosslinked with flexible polymer links that provided the network with different mechanical and chemical properties. Additionally, by tailoring the molecular weight of the crosslinks, the ionic strength of the solution, and even the aspect ratio of the fibrils, the mechanical properties of the network were tuned to be either stiffer or more ductile. 

Finally, an innovative and more sustainable approach was developed to introduce charge and alkene functionality to the fibres. Following the lessons learned from the CNF model investigations, a polymerisation approach was developed in the presence of functionalised fibres. The polymers were grown from the fibre wall, followed by radical crosslinking to create strong Fibre reinforced hydrogel structures. Depending on the application, the method can be easily applied to introduce other types of molecules and functionalities to the fibres and tailor the properties of the fibres to suit a wide range of applications.