Polyelectrolyte Complex Coacervate Assembly with Cellulose Nanofibers

N Khan and NZ Zaragoza and CE Travis and M Goswami and BK Brettmann, ACS OMEGA, 5, 17129-17140 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.0c00977

Polyelectrolytes are used in paper manufacturing to increase flocculation and water drainage and improve mechanical properties. In this study, we examine the interaction between charged cellulosic nanomaterials and polyelectrolyte complex coacervates of weak polyelectrolytes, polyacrylic acid salt, and polyallylamine hydrochloride. We observe that by changing the order of addition of the polyelectrolytes to cellulose nanofibers (CNFs), we can tune the interactions between the materials, which in turn changes the degree of association of the coacervates to the CNFs and the rate at which they aggregate. Importantly for the papermaking process, when adding the polyelectrolytes sequentially to the CNFs, we found faster aggregation to the fibers and lower water retention values compared to those when preformed coacervates or CNFs by themselves were used. Coarse-grain molecular dynamic simulations further support the fundamental mechanism of aggregation by taking into consideration the interaction between cellulose and the complexes at the molecular level. The simulations corroborate the experimental observations by showing the importance of strong electrostatic interactions in aggregate formation.

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