Strategies for improving mechanical properties of polypropylene/cellulose composites

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH

Abstract: The interest for polypropylene/cellulose composites has experienced a great increase in different applications such as car interiors and construction materials. Cellulose fibres are inexpensive, renewable, biodegradable, they present lower density and their mechanical properties can be compared to those of inorganic fillers. However, several factors must be considered when designing polypropylene/cellulose composites: the poor compatibility between the hydrophilic fibres and the hydrophobic thermoplastic matrix leads to a weak interface, which has to be improved by coupling agents; the hydrophilic nature of the fibres makes them very sensitive towards water absorption, which also leads to a loss of properties and swelling with subsequent dimensional instability; the reduced thermal stability of cellulose fibres leads to degradation of the fibres at thermoplastic processing temperatures producing odours in the final material; and finally the properties of composites are greatly influenced by the structure, size and quality of the fibres.Pulp fibres modified by different methods in order to enhance the compatibility fibre-matrix, were tested. Modified fibres led to improved mechanical properties and thermal behaviour when used in composites with recycled polypropylene.Four different types of natural fibres were used as reinforcement in two different polypropylene types: virgin and recycled polypropylene. The mechanical properties of the composites were mostly dependent on the fibre loading and slightly dependent on the type of fibre. Moreover, water absorption kinetics was studied by the Fickian diffusion theory. After absorption, a remarkable loss of properties was observed.Hydrolysed cellulose fibres showed a greater enhancing effect on polypropylene than non-hydrolysed cellulose fibres. This is attributed to the greater mechanical properties of reduced cellulose structures.The effect of using cellulose fibres in PP/clay nanocomposites was also studied. The interaction between the clay particles and the cellulose fibres and the combined effect of both reinforcements were believed to be the main reasons for the enhancing properties.