Photoswitchable Superabsorbency Based on Nanocellulose Aerogels

Authors

  • Marjo Kettunen,

    1. Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
    Current affiliation:
    1. Marjo Kettunen has previously published under the name Marjo Pääkkö.
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  • Riitta J. Silvennoinen,

    1. Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
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  • Nikolay Houbenov,

    1. Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
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  • Antti Nykänen,

    1. Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
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  • Janne Ruokolainen,

    1. Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
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  • Jani Sainio,

    1. The Surface Science Group, Department of Applied Physics, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, P.O. Box 11100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
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  • Viljami Pore,

    1. Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 55, FI-00014, Finland
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  • Marianna Kemell,

    1. Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 55, FI-00014, Finland
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  • Mikael Ankerfors,

    1. Innventia AB, Process and Product Innovation, P.O. Box 5604, SE-114 86 Stockholm, Sweden
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  • Tom Lindström,

    1. Innventia AB, Process and Product Innovation, P.O. Box 5604, SE-114 86 Stockholm, Sweden
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  • Mikko Ritala,

    1. Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 55, FI-00014, Finland
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  • Robin H. A. Ras,

    1. Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
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  • Olli Ikkala

    Corresponding author
    1. Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland
    • Molecular Materials, Department of Applied Physics and Center for New Materials, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, (previously Helsinki University of Technology), P.O. Box 15100, FIN-00076, Espoo, Finland.
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Abstract

Chemical vapor deposition of a thin titanium dioxide (TiO2) film on lightweight native nanocellulose aerogels offers a novel type of functional material that shows photoswitching between water-superabsorbent and water-repellent states. Cellulose nanofibrils (diameters in the range of 5–20 nm) with native crystalline internal structures are topical due to their attractive mechanical properties, and they have become relevant for applications due to the recent progress in the methods of their preparation. Highly porous, nanocellulose aerogels are here first formed by freeze-drying from the corresponding aqueous gels. Well-defined, nearly conformal TiO2 coatings with thicknesses of about 7 nm are prepared by chemical vapor deposition on the aerogel skeleton. Weighing shows that such TiO2-coated aerogel specimens essentially do not absorb water upon immersion, which is also evidenced by a high contact angle for water of 140° on the surface. Upon UV illumination, they absorb water 16 times their own weight and show a vanishing contact angle on the surface, allowing them to be denoted as superabsorbents. Recovery of the original absorption and wetting properties occurs upon storage in the dark. That the cellulose nanofibrils spontaneously aggregate into porous sheets of different length scales during freeze-drying is relevant: in the water-repellent state they may stabilize air pockets, as evidenced by a high contact angle, in the superabsorbent state they facilitate rapid water-spreading into the aerogel cavities by capillary effects. The TiO2-coated nanocellulose aerogels also show photo-oxidative decomposition, i.e., photocatalytic activity, which, in combination with the porous structure, is interesting for applications such as water purification. It is expected that the present dynamic, externally controlled, organic/inorganic aerogels will open technically relevant approaches for various applications.

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