Enzymatic modification of synthetic materials

(V.A. Nierstrasz, P.B. Agrawal and M.M.C.G. Warmoeskerken)

The potential of enzymes like cutinases have been evaluated for surface modification of the persistent synthetic polymer poly(ethylene terephthalate), the most important synthetic fiber in the textile industry. The aim of the surface modification is to improve the hydrophilicity of the polymer and to facilitate functionalsation, and not to change the bulk properties. The most conventional, and industrially most common, way of rendering polyester hydrophilic is an alkali treatment, thus hydrolyzing the polyester bonds. Although hydrophilicity is achieved, the favorable bulk properties of polyester, particularly the strength, are also affected. Furthermore, the high amount of NaOH and the high operating temperatures necessary are a disadvantage. An environmentally more benign process is therefore desirable.