Background: Superabsorbent hydrogels show a large potential in a wide array of applications due to their unique properties. Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) is a commercially available water-soluble cellulose derivative of major interest in the hydrogel synthesis. High-energy irradiation allows the chemical crosslinking without the use of crosslinking agents, while the introduction of other natural or synthetic polymers offers a convenient way to modify the gels. In this study we examined the effect of the addition of starch, a low-cost renewable polysaccharide, on the properties of carboxymethylcellulose-based hydrogels. Results: Superabsorbent gels were prepared by gamma irradiation from aqueous mixtures of carboxymethylcellulose and starch. The partial replacement of CMC with starch improved the gel fraction, while a slight increase in the water uptake was also observed. However, very high starch content had a negative impact on the gelation, resulting in a decrease in gel fraction. Moreover, higher solute concentrations were preferred for the gelation of CMC/starch than for pure CMC. Hydrogels containing 30% starch showed the best properties: a water uptake of ~350 gwater/ggel was achieved with ~55% gel fraction synthesized from 15 w/w% solutions at 20 kGy. Heterogeneous gel structure was observed: the starch granules and fragments were dispersed in the CMC matrix. The swelling of CMC/starch gels showed a high sensitivity to the ionic strength in water due to the CMC component. However, the mixed gels are less sensitive to the ionic strength than pure CMC gels. Conclusions: The introduction of starch to carboxymethylcellulose systems led to improved properties. Such gels showed higher water uptake, especially in an environment with high electrolyte concentration. CMC/starch hydrogels may offer a cheaper, superior alternative compared to pure cellulose derivative-based gels depending on the application.
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