We developed a method for the fabrication of novel biodegradable nanoparticles (NPs) from lignin which are apparently non-toxic for microalgae and yeast. We compare two alternative methods for the synthesis of lignin NPs which result in particles of very different stability upon change of pH. The first method is based on precipitation of low-sulfonated lignin from an ethylene glycol solution by using diluted acidic aqueous solutions, which yields lignin NPs that are stable over a wide range of pH. The second approach is based on the acidic precipitation of lignin from a high-pH aqueous solution which produces NPs stable only at low pH. Our study reveals that lignin NPs from the ethylene glycol-based precipitation contain densely packed lignin domains which explain the stability of the NPs even at high pH. We characterised the properties of the produced lignin NPs and determined their loading capacities with hydrophilic actives. The results suggest that these NPs are highly porous and consist of smaller lignin domains. Tests with microalgae like Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and yeast incubated in lignin NP dispersions indicated that these NPs lack measurable effect on the viability of these microorganisms. Such biodegradable and environmentally compatible NPs can find applications as drug delivery vehicles, stabilisers of cosmetic and pharmaceutical formulations, or in other areas where they may replace more expensive and potentially toxic nanomaterials.
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