Scalable manufacturing of biomimetic moldable hydrogels for industrial applications，Anthony C. Yua, Haoxuan Chena, Doreen Chanb, Gillie Agmonc, Lyndsay M. Stapletonc, Alex M. Sevitc, Mark W. Tibbittd,e, Jesse D. Acostaf, Tony Zhangg, Paul W. Franziag, Robert Langerd,e,1, and Eric A. Appela,1；doi: 10.1073/pnas.1618156113
Hydrogels are a class of soft material that is exploited in many, often completely disparate, industrial applications, on account of their unique and tunable properties. Advances in soft material design are yielding next-generation moldable hydrogels that address engineering criteria in several industrial settings such as complex viscosity modifiers, hydraulic or injection fluids, and sprayable carriers. Industrial implementation of these viscoelastic materials requires extreme volumes of material, upwards of several hundred million gallons per year. Here, we demonstrate a paradigm for the scalable fabrication of self-assembled moldable hydrogels using rationally engineered, biomimetic polymer–nanoparticle interactions. Cellulose derivatives are linked together by selective adsorption to silica nanoparticles via dynamic and multivalent interactions. We show that the self-assembly process for gel formation is easily scaled in a linear fashion from 0.5 mL to over 15 L without alteration of the mechanical properties of the resultant materials. The facile and scalable preparation of these materials leveraging self-assembly of inexpensive, renewable, and environmentally benign starting materials, coupled with the tunability of their properties, make them amenable to a range of industrial applications. In particular, we demonstrate their utility as injectable materials for pipeline maintenance and product recovery in industrial food manufacturing as well as their use as sprayable carriers for robust application of fire retardants in preventing wildland fires.