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Title: Tailoring polyvinyl alcohol-sodium alginate (PVA-SA) hydrogel beads by controlling crosslinking pH and time

Hydrogel-encapsulated catalysts are an attractive tool for low-cost intensification of (bio)-processes. Polyvinyl alcohol-sodium alginate hydrogels crosslinked with boric acid and post-cured with sulfate (PVA-SA-BS) have been applied in bioproduction and water treatment processes, but the low pH required for crosslinking may negatively affect biocatalyst functionality. Here, we investigate how crosslinking pH (3, 4, and 5) and time (1, 2, and 8 h) affect the physicochemical, elastic, and process properties of PVA-SA-BS beads. Overall, bead properties were most affected by crosslinking pH. Beads produced at pH 3 and 4 were smaller and contained larger internal cavities, while optical coherence tomography suggested polymer cross-linking density was higher. Optical coherence elastography revealed PVA-SA-BS beads produced at pH 3 and 4 were stiffer than pH 5 beads. Dextran Blue release showed that pH 3-produced beads enabled higher diffusion rates and were more porous. Last, over a 28-day incubation, pH 3 and 4 beads lost more microspheres (as cell proxies) than beads produced at pH 5, while the latter released more polymer material. Overall, this study provides a path forward to tailor PVA-SA-BS hydrogel bead properties towards a broad range of applications, such as chemical, enzymatic, and microbially catalyzed (bio)-processes.

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Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
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National Science Foundation
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