Zipper Brushes: Reversible antifouling coatings through a sustainable and green two-step aqueous brush deposition process

Annemarie Maan (PhD candidate), Wiebe de Vos (promotor) and Marleen Kamperman (promotor RuG)

Duration: 2019 - 2023

Funding This research project receives funding from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) in the framework of the ENW PPP Fund for the top sectors and from the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the framework of the “PPS-Toeslagregeling.”

Introduction
Fouling and fouling control are major challenges in a wide variety of applications, ranging from biomedical devices to membrane technology. Fouling of surfaces leads to an increase in energy consumption, together with an increase in operational and maintenance costs to keep these devices running. Currently used cleaning methods, which remove these fouling agents, are often incomplete and their harsh conditions may damage the system of interest. Coating the system with a dense layer of end-grafted polymer, a polymer brush, has proven to reduce the fouling behavior, but their long-term antifouling performance and mechanical stability are poor. Hence, irrespective of the cleaning or antifouling strategy employed, all surfaces will eventually become fouled.

This is where our research steps in: we aim to develop reversible anti-fouling polymer coatings via a cheap and simple adsorption method. Moreover, if the polymer coating gets fouled or damaged, the coating can easily be removed and reapplied.

Key words
Polymer brush, antifouling, surface modification, stimuli-responsive

Technological challenges
Even though many concepts exist to protect surfaces from fouling, there are still many challenges to be overcome. Preserving the antifouling properties on a long time scale is almost impossible, due to the many antifouling agents with different surface characteristics, but also due to mechanical damage. Moreover, translating the existing (and often covalent and substrate-specific) lab-scale antifouling coatings to a large surface area is often far too difficult and expensive. With our reversible, simple and cheap adsorption method, we try to overcome these challenges. In our recently published review, you can read more about antifouling methods, challenges and possible solutions: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202000936.

Research goals
The goal of this research will be to demonstrate that very dense and reversible antifouling polymer brushes can be prepared with an easy, versatile method by a novel adsorption method. Once we have found a successful antifouling system, we can apply the coating to protect existing systems, such as well-defined membranes.