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Today Hydrogels are widely used in membranes e.g. in seawater desalination plants. Conventional hydrogels, however, have very low stiffness and therefore have to be embedded in supporting structures. This is a complicated process and prevents the membranes from being cleaned when they are clogged with microorganisms.
By means of a special production process, it has now been possible for the first time to produce ultrastiff (up to 400 MPa) and very tough hydrogels, which do not require a supporting structure. The mechanical and optical properties are specifically adjustable.
The production process is based on a biomineralization in which enzymes, so-called phosphatases, are extremely finely distributed in the material and homogeneously catalyze the structure formation process. The mineralization occurs directly in the material itself. This results in a solid and well-ordered calcium phosphate nanostructure, which forms a stable network and is responsible for the special properties.
Keywords: hydrogel, membran, nano filtration, desalination, battery, skin replacement, bone replacement
Possible applications are semipermeable membranes for water treatment and desalination plants as well as for nanofiltration and for proton exchangers in fuel cells, batteries and electrodes. It is also possible to use the hydrogels as an replacement material for skin, cartilage or bones, whereby the properties and the structure of the new hydrogels can be adjust very similar to those of the natural substances. The materials are biocompatible and show good cell adhesion. Finally, the hydrogels can also be used as drug delivery Systems.
An European patent application for this invention has been filed at the end of 2016.
Extensive experimental data on the invention are available. On behalf of the
TU Dortmund, PROvendis is seeking a licensee for the new technology.
N. Rauner et al.: “Enzymatic mineralization generates ultrastiff and tough hydrogels with tunable mechanics”, Nature 2017, doi:10.1038/nature21392.