Thermoplastic PCL-b-PEG-b-PCL and HDI polyurethanes for extrusion-based 3D-printing of tough hydrogels
Novel tough hydrogel materials are required for 3D-printing applications. Here, a series of thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs) based on poly(ɛ-caprolactone)-b-poly(ethylene glycol)-b-poly(ɛ-caprolactone) (PCL-b-PEG-b-PCL) triblock copolymers and hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI) were developed with PEG contents varying between 30 and 70 mol%. These showed excellent mechanical properties not only when dry, but also when hydrated: TPUs prepared from PCL-b-PEG-b-PCL with PEG of Mn 6 kg/mol (PCL₇-PEG₆-PCL₇) took up 122 wt.% upon hydration and had an E-modulus of 52 ± 10 MPa, a tensile strength of 17 ± 2 MPa, and a strain at break of 1553 ± 155% in the hydrated state. They had a fracture energy of 17976 ± 3011 N/mm² and a high tearing energy of 72 kJ/m². TPUs prepared using PEG with Mn of 10 kg/mol (PCL₅-PEG10-PCL₅) took up 534% water and were more flexible. When wet, they had an E-modulus of 7 ± 2 MPa, a tensile strength of 4 ± 1 MPa, and a strain at break of 147 ± 41%. These hydrogels had a fracture energy of 513 ± 267 N/mm² and a tearing energy of 16 kJ/m². The latter TPU was first extruded into filaments and then processed into designed porous hydrogel structures by 3D-printing. These hydrogels can be used in 3D printing of tissue engineering scaffolds with high fracture toughness.
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