Nanocellulose-Mediated Electroconductive Self-Healing Hydrogels with High Strength, Plasticity, Viscoelasticity, Stretchability, and Biocompatibility toward Multifunctional Applications

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Conducting polymer hydrogels (CPHs) have emerged as a fascinating class of smart soft matters important for various advanced applications. However, achieving the synergistic characteristics of conductivity, self-healing ability, biocompatibility, viscoelasticity, and high mechanical performance still remains a critical challenge. Here, we develop for the first time a type of multifunctional hybrid CPHs based on a viscoelastic polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)-borax (PB) gel matrix and nanostructured CNFs-PPy (cellulose nanofibers-polypyrrole) complexes that synergizes the biotemplate role of CNFs and the conductive nature of PPy. The CNF-PPy complexes are synthesized through in situ oxidative polymerization of pyrrole on the surface of CNF templates, which are further well-dispersed into the PB matrix to synthesize homogeneous CNF-PPy/PB hybrid hydrogels. The CNF-PPy complexes not only tangle with PVA chains though hydrogen bonds, but also form reversibly cross-linked complexes with borate ions. The multi-complexation between each component leads to the formation of a hierarchical three-dimensional network. The CNF-PPy/PB-3 hydrogel prepared by 2.0 wt % of PVA, 0.4 wt % of borax, and CNF-PPy complexes with a mass ratio of 3.75/1 exhibits the highest viscoelasticity and mechanical strength. Because of a combined reinforcing and conductive network inside the hydrogel, its maximum storage modulus (∼0.1 MPa) and nominal compression stress (∼22 MPa) are 60 and 2240 times higher than those of pure CNF/PB hydrogel, respectively. The CNF-PPy/PB-3 electrode with a conductivity of 3.65 ± 0.08 S m has a maximum specific capacitance of 236.9 F g, and its specific capacitance degradation is less than 14% after 1500 cycles. The CNF-PPy/PB hybrid hydrogels also demonstrate attractive characteristics, including high water content (∼94%), low density (∼1.2 g cm), excellent biocompatibility, plasticity, pH sensitivity, and rapid self-healing ability without additional external stimuli. Taken together, the combination of such unique properties endows the newly developed CPHs with potential applications in flexible bioelectronics and provides a practical platform to design multifunctional smart soft materials.

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ACS applied materials & interfaces

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