Humidity Response of Cellulose Thin Films

David Reishofer, Roland Resel, Jurgen Sattelkow, Wolfgang J. Fischer, Katrin Niegelhell, Tamilselvan Mohan, Karin Stana Kleinschek, Heinz Amenitsch, Harald Plank, Tekla Tammelin, Eero Kontturi, Stefan Spirk

Biomacromolecules, 2022, 23, 3, 1148-1157

Abstract: Cellulose–water interactions are crucial to understand biological processes as well as to develop tailor made cellulose-based products. However, the main challenge to study these interactions is the diversity of natural cellulose fibers and alterations in their supramolecular structure. Here, we study the humidity response of different, well-defined, ultrathin cellulose films as a function of industrially relevant treatments using different techniques. As treatments, drying at elevated temperature, swelling, and swelling followed by drying at elevated temperatures were chosen. The cellulose films were prepared by spin coating a soluble cellulose derivative, trimethylsilyl cellulose, onto solid substrates followed by conversion to cellulose by HCl vapor. For the highest investigated humidity levels (97%), the layer thickness increased by ca. 40% corresponding to the incorporation of 3.6 molecules of water per anhydroglucose unit (AGU), independent of the cellulose source used. The aforementioned treatments affected this ratio significantly with drying being the most notable procedure (2.0 and 2.6 molecules per AGU). The alterations were investigated in real time with X-ray reflectivity and quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation, equipped with a humidity module to obtain information about changes in the thickness, roughness, and electron density of the films and qualitatively confirmed using grazing incidence small angle X-ray scattering measurements using synchrotron irradiation.

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