Dynamical Water Ingress and Dissolution at the Amorphous-Crystalline Cellulose Interface

YX Wang and A Kiziltas and AR Drews and S Tamrakar and P Blanchard and TR Walsh, BIOMACROMOLECULES, 22, 3884-3891 (2021).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.biomac.1c00690

The use of cellulose has considerable promise in a wide range of industrial applications but is hampered by degradation in mechanical properties due to ambient moisture uptake. Existing models of equilibrium moisture content can predict the impact of these effects, but at present, the dynamical, atomic-scale picture of water ingress into cellulose is lacking. The present work reports nonequilibrium molecular simulations of the interface between cellulose and water aimed at capturing the initial stages of two simultaneous dynamical processes, water ingress into cellulose and cellulose dissolution into water. These simulations demonstrate that the process depends on the temperature and chain length in the amorphous region, where high temperatures can induce more mass exchange and short chains can easily detach from amorphous cellulose. A cooperative mechanism that involves both chemical and physical aspects, namely, hydrogen bonding and chain intertwining, respectively, is proposed to interpret the incipient dual ingress/dissolution process. Outcomes of this work will provide a foundation for cellulose functionalization strategies to impede moisture uptake and preserve the mechanical properties of nanocellulose in applications.

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