The degradation of gel-spun poly(beta-hydroxybutyrate) fibrous matrix

  • Leslie J.R. Foster

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Poly(β-hydroxybutyrate), (PHB), is a biologically produced, biodegradable thennoplastic with commercial potential. In this work the qualitative and quantitative investigations of the structure and degradation of a previously unstudied, novel, fibrous form of PHB, were completed. This gel-spun PHB fibrous matrix, PHB(FM), which has a similar appearance to cotton wool, possesses a relatively complex structure which combines a large volume with a low mass and has potential for use as a wound scaffolding device.
As a result of the intrinsic problems presented by this novel structure, a new experimental procedure was developed to analyze the degradation of the PHB to its monomer hydroxybutyric acid, (HBA). This procedure was used in an accelerated degradation model which accurately monitored the degradation of the undegraded and degraded fractions of a fibrous matrix and the degradation of its PHB component. The in vitro degradation mechanism was also monitored using phase contrast and scanning electron microscopy, differential scanning calorimetry, fibre diameter distributions and Fourier infra-red photoacoustic spectroscopy. The accelerated degradation model was used to predict the degradation of the samples in the physiological model and this provided a clearer picture as to the samples potential biodegradation as medical implantation devices.
The degradation of the matrices was characterized by an initial penetration of the degradative medium and weakening of the fibre integrity due to cleavage of the ester linkages, this then led to the physical collapse of the fibres which increased the surface area to volume ratio of the sample and facilitated its degradation. Degradation in the later stages was reduced due to the experimental kinetics, compaction and degradation resistant material, most probably the highly crystalline regions of the PHB. The in vitro degradation of the PHB(FM) was influenced by blending with various polysaccharides, copolymerizing with poly(~-hydroxyvalerate), (PHV), and changes to the manufacturing process. The degradation was also detennined to be faster than that of conventional melt processed PHB based samples.
It was concluded that the material factors such as processing, sample size and shape affected the degradation of PHB based samples with the major factor of sample surface area to volume ratio being of paramount importance in determining the degradation of a sample.
Date of AwardAug 1992
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBrian Tighe (Supervisor)


  • biodegradation
  • fibre
  • hydroxybutyric acid
  • photoacoustic spectroscopy
  • blending

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