Unraveling the Interplay between Abiotic Hydrolytic Degradation and Crystallization of Bacterial Polyesters Comprising Short and Medium Side-Chain-Length Polyhydroxyalkanoates


Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) have attracted attention as degradable (co)polyesters which can be produced by microorganisms with variations in the side chain. This structural variation influences not only the thermomechanical properties of the material but also its degradation behavior. Here, we used Langmuir monolayers at the air–water (A–W) interface as suitable models for evaluating the abiotic degradation of two PHAs with different side-chain lengths and crystallinity. By controlling the polymer state (semicrystalline, amorphous), the packing density, the pH, and the degradation mechanism, we could draw several significant conclusions. (i) The maximum degree of crystallinity for a PHA film to be efficiently degraded up to pH = 12.3 is 40%. (ii) PHA made of repeating units with shorter side-chain length are more easily hydrolyzed under alkaline conditions. The efficiency of alkaline hydrolysis decreased by about 65% when the polymer was 40% crystalline. (iii) In PHA films with a relatively high initial crystallinity, abiotic degradation initiated a chemi-crystallization phenomenon, detected as an increase in the storage modulus (E′). This could translate into an increase in brittleness and reduction in the material degradability. Finally, we demonstrate the stability of the measurement system for long-term experiments, which allows degradation conditions for polymers that could closely simulate real-time degradation.
QR Code: Link to publication