Functional Polymers for Laundry Applications

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


Context of research

The World Bank estimates that 20% of global industrial water pollution is a result of textile dyeing. In addition, fabric discolouration, due to dye transfer during the laundry wash cycle, reduces the aesthetics of clothes and leads to greater textile production/consumption. Consequently, there is an urgent need to design materials that are capable of adsorbing rogue dye molecules, both at dye houses and within laundry washing cycles.

In the first instance, this project will seek to develop polymeric adsorbents for C.I. reactive black 5 (RB5). The extended aromatic structures of reactive dyes retards RB5 degradation, ensuring that its environmental release causes extreme ecological damage. RB5 is resistant to previously implemented dye bath clean-up methods and so alternative methods must be implemented to remove RB5 from dye bath waste water.

We will develop a diverse range of polymers for use as dye adsorbents. There will be an emphasis on utilising naturally occurring polymers to fulfil the desired application. Specifically, the amine groups of chitosan and the hydroxyl groups of cellulose will be exploited for dye adsorption and/or chemical modification. In addition, a range of polyesters will be produced by polycondensation (poly(ethylene terephthalate)) and ring-opening polymerisations (poly(globalide)). High surface area hydrogels, scaffolds and foams will be created from the polymers, and their effectiveness as dye adsorbents thoroughly assessed. Other dye molecules that are of immediate importance include indigo and sulphur black 1, both of which are heavily used for the colouration of fabric, and are associated with environmental damage and dye transfer between garments in the laundry wash cycle.

Aims and objectives
The main aims are:

i) To design and develop a range of polymeric materials that are unreported as effective dye adsorbents.
ii) To determine the effectiveness of employing the polymeric materials produced as large scale dye adsorbents of numerous problematic dyes.
iii) To assess the capability of the polymeric materials produced to minimise dye transfer between garments in laundry wash cycles.

The objectives are

The chemical properties of numerous problematic dyes (including the form that the applied dye takes) will be determined by chemical analysis. Upon the thorough characterisation of identified problematic dyes, polymer synthesis and modification will be conducted in order to produce polymers that are capable of interacting non-covalently with the target dye molecules. The polymers will then be processed to form materials that possess a sufficient surface area for effective dye adsorption, and are unreported in both the academic and commercial literature. The products created will be good candidates for large-scale production as dye adsorbents for use at dye houses, or dye adsorbents for inclusion within advanced laundry-care formulations.

Potential applications and benefits

The applications of the project are clear; polymeric adsorbents will be produced that will be effective for large-scale dye clean-up and/or the prevention of dye transfer within laundry wash cycles. Both applications are significant commercially; the creation of effective large-scale dye adsorbents is also of enormous environmental benefit. The research will provide invaluable chemical knowledge of problematic dye molecules and offer solutions to minimise their impact on a global scale.

The student undertaking the project will benefit from gaining a detailed knowledge of polymer synthesis, functionalisation and characterisation, and a strong familiarity with the design and creation of functional materials. The work will be of sufficient significance and novelty to produce journal/patent publications upon the generation of significant results, which will be disseminated to the wider scientific community at international conferences.

Research Areas: Polymer Chemistry


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Boardman S (2017) Chitosan hydrogels for targeted dye and protein adsorption in Journal of Applied Polymer Science

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509243/1 30/09/2015 31/12/2021
1651172 Studentship EP/N509243/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2019 Saskia Boardman
Description Chitosan hydrogels have been researched as candidates for drug and dye adsorbers. Pharmaceuticals and dyes contribute enormously to pollution of water bodies and the ocean and can cause serious damage to aquatic life. Through this research, chitosan hydrogels have been found to adsorb these moieties, and therefore remove them from the environment. It has then been observed that they may be rapidly released from the hydrogel under certain conditions, i.e. incubation in alternative solvents, which thus allows the pollutant to be collected and appropriately disposed of, or recycled. Additionally, a library of degradable polymers have been synthesised which are capable of preventing dye transfer in laundry cycles. These polymers may be added to detergent formulations and provide ecological and economical benefits to the consumers. By preventing dye transfer, clothes last longer, as they do not discolour. This means they last longer, preventing waste and preventing the need for the consumer to replace the spoiled item.
Exploitation Route The findings of this project may be taken forward by others researching dye transfer in laundry, as a variety of preventative mechanisms have been investigated and a clear forerunner has been identified. It may therefore be taken further through further experimentation to fine tune and improve the polymers so far developed. The chitosan hydrogels may be further investigated with more drug moieties or other pollutants, as well as alternative hydrogels.
Sectors Chemicals,Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology