Rebirth of biomass technology for functional materials through supramolecular upcycling – By Olga Guselnikova

For a considerable period, the engine of progress was fuelled primarily by economic incentives. However, this paradigm has shifted due to increased awareness of the environmental consequences of society. Focus has turned towards embracing sustainability as a precursor to assimilating the fruits of progress into industry. This trend leverages the conversion of different waste feedstock like plastics, metals, etc, into new added value matter. The added value matter could be fuels, solvents, organic substrates, new polymers, and functional materials.

Embracing the notion that “the new is often the well-forgotten old,” the use of biomass as a feedstock for materials with practicable qualities has been revisited and revitalized. The biomass is feedstock mainly derived from agricultural and forestry resources, and animal resources. Compared to other waste feedstock, such as plastic, electronic, and construction waste, biomass already fits more within the sustainable economic strategy due to its natural origin. The other side of this coin is the insufficient mechanical properties of biomass-derived materials which leads to poor durability and recyclability of functional materials from biomass.

Recent work from Leixiao Yu, Lingyan Gao, Shengyi Dong and team suggests a supramolecular strategy to overcome these limitations. They reported the conversion of 6 types of biomass (cellulose, guar gum, sericin protein, chitin, corn protein and potato starch) to functional materials via copolymerization with thioctic acid (TA) to afford poly[TA-biomass]. The material formation is driven by hydrogen bonding between TA and the polar functional groups in the biomass. Despite such non-covalent forces being reversible and inherently weaker than covalent bonds, prepared materials are proven to be highly impact resistant. The prepared poly[TA-biomass] is highly adhesive and water-resistant, however, it could be fully depolymerized by simple ethanol treatment and involved in the next cycle of polymerization-utilization without any obvious decay in mechanical strength. This anticipates potential applications of poly[TA-biomass as anti-water, impact resistant materials. The team expanded the potential application directions to the biomedical field by demonstrating high biocompatibility, nontoxicity, and antimicrobial effects towards both gram-positive and negative bacteria, attributed to TA. For instance, the newly prepared poly[TA-biomass] may hold promise for smart packaging or wound healing materials.

Figure 1:Chemical structures of biomass (upper block,) and preparation of poly[TA-biomass]s via supramolecular approach – formation of hydrogen bonding hydrogen bonding between thioctic and the polar functional groups in the biomass (middle block) and key advantages of poly[TA-biomass]s materials. Reproduced from DOI: 10.1039/d3mh01692g with permission from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

This recent work is a perfect example of the “waste to wealth” approach, where materials chemistry assisted in transforming common feedstock into functional materials. Combining waste feedstock with a supramolecular strategy is a promising concept that can be broadened to the use of other types of feedstock (plastic, metal) and a broad family of non-covalent interactions (hydrogen bonding, π- π stacking, hydrophobic effects). At the moment, however, this research directs the attention of the community to biomass as a promising feedstock for functional materials design.

To find out more, please read:

A supramolecular approach for converting renewable biomass into functional materials

Yunfei Zhang, Changyong Cai, Ke Xu, Xiao Yang, Leixiao Yu, Lingyan Gao and Shengyi Dong

Mater. Horiz., 2024, Advance Article, DOI: 10.1039/D3MH01692G


Dr Olga Guselnikova is a member of the Materials Horizons Community Board. She recently joined the Center for Electrochemistry and Surface Technology (Austria) to work on functional materials as a group leader. 

Dr. Guselnikova received her PhD degree in chemistry from the University of Chemistry and Technology Prague (Czech Republic) and Tomsk Polytechnic University (Russia) in 2019. Her research interests are related to surface chemistry for functional materials. This means that she is applying her background in organic chemistry to materials science: plasmonic and polymer surfaces are hybridized with organic molecules to create high-performance elements and devices.

Visit of Prof. Gogotsi at our ELSA lab!

It was a great honor for us to meet Prof. Yury Gogotsi, one of the discoverers of MXenes and leader in 2D material science. Prof. Gogotsi gave a lecture on MXenes at TU Wien explaining the incredible properties of MXenes and their applications in many fields such as catalysis, functional coatings, and energy storage. Prof. Gogotsi visited our ELSA facility and different groups at TU Wien (Prof Dominik Eder, Dr. Bayer-Skoff, and Prof. Carsten Gachot), including the Applied Interface Physics group of Prof. Markus Valtiner.

Our PhD students had the opportunity to discuss with him the best strategies to succeed in MXenes research. CEST is being successful in expanding its international collaboration and it looks forward to collaboration with key scientific partners around the world.

MXenes expert visit

We recently had the honor of a visit from Alex Gogotsi to our labs in Wiener Neustadt (Low Energy Ion Scattering, Batteries development) and Vienna (ELSA, SFA). He is the head of Carbon Ukraine, a worldwide leader in the production of MAX phases and MXenes, while at CEST we have recently started working on these phenomenal materials. We thank Dr. Gogotsi for his visit and the meaningful discussion in front of our excellent surface analytical cluster. We look forward to working together in the future to develop efficient and sustainable materials for new technologies.

COAST and LEIS 2023

A big thank you goes out to all speakers, project partners and interested attendants, who attend our 2nd Conference of Applied Surface Technology (COAST) in Vienna and our Low Energy Ion Scattering (LEIS) Workshop in Wr. Neustadt.

The presented opportunities and exciting solutions in the fields of energy, materials and sustainability were impressive and will help us to tackle our future challenges. We are thrilled for the future and ready to tackle all upcoming challenges together!

See you all next year and thank you to our speakers from industry and academia:

Wien Energie GmbH / Teresa Schubert
thyssenkrupp / Mingquan Yu
Systemiq Ltd. / Andreas Wagner
Infineon Technologies / Michael Nelhiebel
ams OSRAM / Peter Zach
Evonik / Hrishikesh Joshi

Jörg Libuda, Guido Grundmeier, Marko Sturm, Andreas Nenning, Erwin Lam, Robert Meißner, Freddy Kleitz, Bernhard Bayer, Sally McArthur, Barbara Putz, Serhiy Cherevko, Gonzalo Prieto, Palaniappan Subramanian, Charles Creissen, Patricia Rodriguez Macia, James Birrell, Adam Slabon, Klaus Bretterbauer

And a great thank you to our sponsors:
ecoplus. Niederösterreichs Wirtschaftsagentur GmbH, Land Niederösterreich, IONTOF GmbH

GFF site Visit at CEST

One important event follows the next at CEST. We are all the more pleased about the recent visit of the GFF to our site and the opportunity to present our projects. Especially our brand new Low Energy Ion Scattering device has to be highlighted, which enables cutting-edge research and was co-funded by the state of Lower Austria.

For this reason, a big THANK YOU to the Gesellschaft für Forschungsförderung Niederösterreich m.b.H. for the good cooperation and support!

CEST at the I-CONECT 2023 conference

Our senior researcher Dr. Soniya Gahlawat was invited to deliver a talk at I-CONECT 2023 conference (International conference on nanomaterials for Electrocatalysis) from 20-22nd March in Delhi, India. 

She presented an overview of her research with prime focus on her ongoing project (ELSA facility) along with her published work on photoelectrochemical water splitting.  She was delighted to get the opportunity to talk about electrochemical surface and interface analysis (ELSA) cluster), and to establish new collaborations.

We started 2023 with the calibration of X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and Auger electron spectroscopy (AES) instruments, major parts of ELSA cluster. Both XPS and AES facilities are in fully operational mode now.

Sponsorship OBSV 2023

The OBSV thanks CEST Kompetenzzentrum für elektrische Oberflächentechnologie for its sustained commitment in connection with the promotion of sport for people with disabilities to improve health and mobility, to increase the quality of life, to integrate into society and to educate people about sporting success at national and international level.

Lower Austria’s young scientist calendar 2023

Our PhD student Markus Ostermann was able to take part in this year’s “Lower Austria young scientist calendar” featuring 12 promising young scientists (JungforscherInnen-Kalender 2023: NÖ Forschungstalente im Fokus (

The scientists were photographed with collodion wet plate process and a wooden camera from 1894.

Furthermore, podcasts of the featured young scientists describing their work and of the calendar’s creators are available at: NÖ JungforscherInnen Kalender 2023 (

CEST at the AIChE 2022 Annual Meeting

Our senior Dr. Bilotto and student MSc. Ostermann attended the AIChE 2022 AnnualMeeting in Phoenix. Huge conference on chemical engineering with strong participations from industries and academia from all over the world. The two representatives from CEST had one presentation talk each.

Dr. Bilotto has presented at AIChE 2022 his PhD work on the role of ions in adhesion and the recent publication done in collaboration with TU Wien on mussel adhesion, published on Biointerphases and funded by the CEST strategic COMET project Biglu. 

MSc Ostermann has presented at AIChE 2022 his recent publication on green production of graphene oxide. He also showed some of the results on direct application for de-icing and water uptake functionalities. The work is funded by the European Union in the framework CleanSky2.

Dr. Bilotto and MSc Ostermann met with Prof. Andresen Eguiluz and Dr. Syeda. Lovely lunch tasting proper Mexican food while discussing way to open collaboration between University of California Merced and CEST. We are all excited for this new possible collaboration on materials, biological/robot interfaces, and lubrication.