Mármol, G., Gauss, C., & Fangueiro, R. (2020). Potential of cellulose microfibers for PHA and PLA biopolymers reinforcement. Molecules, 25(20). https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25204653
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13930
Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) have attracted the attention of many engineering fields and offered excellent mechanical and physical properties as polymer reinforcement. However, their application in composite products with high material demand is complex due to the current production costs. This work explores the use of cellulose microfibers (MF) obtained by a straightforward water dispersion of kraft paper to reinforce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and polylactic acid (PLA) films. To assess the influence of this type of filler material on the properties of biopolymers, films were cast and reinforced at different scales, with both CNC and MF separately, to compare their effectiveness. Regarding mechanical properties, CNC has a better reinforcing effect on the tensile strength of PLA samples, though up to 20 wt.% of MF may also lead to stronger PLA films. Moreover, PHA films reinforced with MF are 23% stronger than neat PHA samples. This gain in strength is accompanied by an increment of the stiffness of the material. Additionally, the addition of MF leads to an increase in the crystallinity of PHA that can be controlled by heat treatment followed by quenching. This change in the crystallinity of PHA affects the hygroscopicity of PHA samples, allowing the modification of the water barrier properties according to the required features. The addition of MF to both types of polymers also increases the surface roughness of the films, which may contribute to obtaining better interlaminar bonding in multi-layer composite applications. Due to the partial lignin content in MF from kraft paper, samples reinforced with MF present a UV blocking effect. Therefore, MF from kraft paper may be explored as a way to introduce high fiber concentrations (up to 20 wt.%) from other sources of recycled paper into biocomposite manufacturing with economic and technical benefits.
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