Chitosan is the N
-deacetylated derivative of chitin, a naturally abundant mucopolysaccharide that consists of 2-acetamido-2-deoxy-β-d-glucose through a β (1→4) linkage and is found in nature as the supporting material of crustaceans, insects, etc.
Chitosan has been strongly recommended as a suitable functional material because of its excellent biocompatibility, biodegradability, non-toxicity, and adsorption properties. Boosting all these excellent properties to obtain unprecedented performances requires the core competences of materials chemists to design and develop novel processing strategies that ultimately allow tailoring the structure and/or the composition of the resulting chitosan-based materials. For instance, the preparation of macroporous materials is challenging in catalysis, biocatalysis and biomedicine, because the resulting materials will offer a desirable combination of high internal reactive surface area and straightforward molecular transport through broad “highways” leading to such a surface. Moreover, chitosan-based composites made of two or more distinct components will produce structural or functional properties not present in materials composed of one single component. Our group has been working lately on cryogenic processes based on the unidirectional freezing of water slurries and/or hydrogels, the subsequent freeze-drying of which produce macroporous materials with a well-patterned structure. We have applied this process to different gels and colloidal suspensions of inorganic, organic, and hybrid materials. In this review, we will describe the application of the process to chitosan solutions and gels typically containing a second component (e.g., metal and ceramic nanoparticles, or carbon nanotubes) for the formation of chitosan nanocomposites with a macroporous structure. We will also discuss the role played by this tailored composition and structure in the ultimate performance of these materials.
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