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Natural Polymer

Science and technology of polymeric biomaterials as a whole has seen extraordinary development in the last few years and especially the natural polymers are considered as one of the pioneering product as well as for major studies. Biopolymers have changed the modern world and transformed the quality of life in various areas of human activity. These molecules have added new dimensions to standard of life and also lead to inexpensive product development. These molecules have helped in all sorts of products development in the field of transportation as well as communication, health and entertainment. These natural polymers include RNA and DNA, the basis of life and genetic processes.

The protein and peptides are all possible because of the mRNA. Many other natural polymers like polysaccharide and polypeptides like silk yarn, keratins are what we come across every day. Apart from these the natural rubber is another polymer that we get to see in nature and these are just big structure of carbon hydrogen combination.

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Natural Polymer Definition

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Polymer processing involves two main aspects and they are processing polymers into forms for further processing powders and pellets as well as polymers converted to finished products of exact dimension and other parameters. In order to characterise polymers to help get the mechanical set of properties, their thermal conduction properties along with the density properties, the usefulness of these polymers are also necessary. Many processing techniques applied for industrial synthetic polymers also applies to natural polymers. Of course there are limitations as well. These limits the use of conventional polymer and hence the processing units help in converting these into more useful and make these suitable for the products which we use on a daily basis.

The selection of polymers for scientific application depends upon proper characterisation and are best suited for polymer or combination of polymers selection. The desired typical processes used in industry for processing synthetic polymers for adoption in natural polymers for cost saving and other convenience. This also works out for combination of natural and synthetic polymers in all kinds of composites. Composites have been defined as a combination of two or more elements with distinct identity and properties bonded to form a multiphase multicomponent system. The component elements maintain their physical and chemical identities. A composite is made up of a polymer as a matrix and a filler and the filler can be any fibre or flake or even a woven fabric but not ceramic, metal or polymer element. Polymer can play the role of a filler or even a matrix in all kinds of composites. The need for such systems is in the desire for physical parameters which cannot be met by other simple mono component synthetic or natural materials. 

Formation of blends are obtained when polymers are matched and mixed either in their molten state or are dissolved in exact proportion. Polymer blends obtained from mixing of polymers can be various forms such as miscible one phase, miscible separated phase, alloys, compatible polymer networks or molecular composites. The main classification of polymer blends are either as compatible or incompatible blends. 

Incompatible blends are immiscible blends where a phases are well defined. These blends generally have poor mechanical properties. Compatible blends are those blends which form a single phase where different components cannot be identified morphologically. These types of polymers blends are more likely to attain better mechanical properties than component polymers. Composite materials are solid which contain a couple of exclusive materials or in their phases relatively greater than their atomic forms. (Natural materials such as bone are viewed as composite materials but alloys like brass are not considered as composite). 

Biopolymers are polymers given out by living organisms and contain monomeric forms and these are bonded in covalent form to create bigger chain structures. The three main class of biopolymers available today are based on the varying number of monomeric units and their specific structures. Polypeptides are short polymers composed of thirteen or more nucleotide monomers. Polysaccharides are most of the time linear bonded polymeric carbohydrate structures and in fact cellulose is most common organic compound and biopolymer found on Earth. 

Natural Polymer Cellulose

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Cellulose is considered to be the most abundant of all natural polymers found on Earth and is also a major constituent of cotton and wood, which together are the basic resource for all cellulose based products like paper, textiles and various construction materials. Cellulose is also used as raw material for production of blend composites and even nano form of composites with variety of application. The amount of cellulose synthesized annually by plants is close to 10 tons. Most cellulose is utilized as raw materials in paper industry for production of paper and cardboard materials. 

Cellulose nano composites are formed by adding cellulose nanoscale fillers in various polymer matrices which result in mechanical reinforcement and also alteration of other properties. Within the nano cellulose family, the nano fibrillated cellulose electro spun nano fibres and also bacterial cellulose nano fibres.  Native cellulose is a linear condensation homo polymer with a complex structure. These are segregated into three structural levels. 

Molecular level ‘A’ where, the cellulose is treated as a single macromolecule. Chemical constitution is relatively easy. Next in series is supra molecular level (nm) where the aggregation of cellulose macromolecules into its elementary fibrils and micro fibrils along with macro fibrils. They also compose the crystal lattice and intermolecular interactions. The last of the series or morphological level (nm to vm) describes the organisation of micro fibrils and macro fibrils into layers and walls of existing distinct cell wall layers in native cellulose fibres or skin core structures. 

List of Natural Polymer

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Some of the important natural polymers under scanner by research groups include lignin, shellac and natural rubber. The category of natural polymers which need polymerisation is the interesting development of biodegradable plastics from edible and non-edible oils like castor oil, soya oil, peanut oil, and sunflower oil. The production of 100% bio based materials as substituted for petroleum based products is not considered as solution economically. 

 Natural polymer 
 Category 
 Polysaccharides  Starch
   Cellulose
   Chitin
 Protein  Collagen
   Gelatine
   Casein
   Albumin
   Fibrinogen
   Silks
 Polyester  Poly hydroxy alkanes 
 Polymers  Lignin
   Lipids
   Shellac
   Natural rubber 

Uses of Natural Polymers

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The use of natural fibres is based on its beneficial properties of natural polymers and especially towards delivering toxic therapeutic agents meant for target tissues.  The use of natural polymers and their derivatives help enhance the drug availability as well as considered as a safe mean for delivering medicines to organs. 
  • These are bio degradable and hence used for variety of applications in medicines and industrial products
  • Non-toxic nature helps in identifying and use these as substitute for all kinds natural edible products and for using them as bio initiators
  • These are economical and inexpensive and hence large quantities are produced for all kinds of applications in bio based factories and for making non-synthetic edible products
  • Natural availability helps in getting the required materials without any harmful side effects
  • These are widely distributed and hence can be produced and transported worldwide without any major implications

Types of Natural Polymers

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Around 1908 the fibre reinforced plastics with the help of cellulose fibre began. This was started with phenolics and then extended to urea and melamine as well. Natural fibres are sub divided based on status with its nature of origin. They are either plant based or animal by products. Animal fibre consists of proteins from hair, silk, and wool while plant fibres are accumulated from either bas (stem or soft sclerenchyma) leaf or hard fibres, seed and fruits. These are also generated from cereal and grass fibres. The structural knowledge of natural fibres is important to know whether these can be utilized in certain synthetic products or as raw materials. These are segregated mainly on the basis of number, size, shape and chemical compositions. 

Polysaccharide: cellulose in structure (wool, flax, hemp) and stored as amylose, amylo pectins (starch, corn), glycogen (dextran). The gel forming ones are gums, muco polysaccharides. 

Protein: egg white, gelatine, enzymes and collagen, elastin, silk and wool.

Polyesters: cork

Poly isoprene: natural rubber, chicle

Polynucleotides: DNA and RNA

Lignin: cellulose fibre binders and cell walls

Some polysaccharides are obtained from various sources like microbes, algae, and fungi. Some of these are neutral and others like carboxylate possess negative charge while chitosan is the only cationic form of polysaccharides. The microbial origin are curdlan, gellan and xanthan. Algal origin are alginate and carrageenan, while the fungal origin are chitin, and scleroglucan.

 Fibre source   Origin 
 Bamboo  Grass
 Broom root
 Root
 Banana  Leaf
 Coir  Fruit
 Cotton  Seed
 Date palm  Leaf
 Flax  Stem
 Hemp  Stem
 Jute  Stem
 Alfa  Grass
 Nettle
 Stem
 Straw
 Stalk
 Wood
 stem
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