Bio-inspired polysaccharide nanocomposites and foams
Abstract: Today, the majority of materials used for single-use packaging are petroleum-based synthetic polymers. With increased concern about the environmental protection, efforts have been made to develop alternative biodegradable materials from renewable resources. Starch offers an attractive alternative since it is of low cost and abundant. However, the starch material is brittle without plasticizer and the mechanical properties of starch materials are highly sensitive to moisture.In nature, the plant cell walls combine mechanical stiffness, strength and toughness despite a highly hydrated state. This interesting combination of properties is attributed to a network based on cellulose microfibrils. Inspired by this, microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) reinforced starch-based nanocomposites films and foams were prepared. Films with a viscous matrix and MFC contents from 10 to 70wt% were successfully obtained by solvent casting. The films were characterized by DSC, DMA, FE-SEM, XRD, mercury density measurements, and dynamic water vapor sorption (DVS). At 70wt% MFC content a high tensile strength together with high modulus and high work of fracture was observed. This was due to the nanofiber and matrix properties, favourable nanofiber-matrix interaction, a good dispersion of nanofibers and the MFC network.Novel nanocomposite foams were obtained by freeze-drying aquagels prepared from 8wt% solutions of amylopectin starch and MFC. The MFC content was varied from 10 to 70wt%. For composite foam with MFC contents up to 40wt%, improved mechanical properties were observed in compression. The mechanical properties depended both on the cell wall properties and the cell-structure of the foam. The effect of moisture (20-80% RH) on the dynamical properties of composite foam with 40wt% MFC was also investigated and compared to those of neat starch foam. Improved storage modulus was noted with MFC content, which was a result of the nanofiber network in the cell-wall. In addition, the moisture content decreased with MFC content, due to the less hydrophilic nature of MFC.
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