Tuning the long-term properties to control biodegradation by surface modifications of agricultural fibres in biocomposites

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: Sustainable polymeric materials put emphasis on mastering the whole life-cycle of polymeric materials. This includes the choice of raw materials, selection of synthesis and processing, environmental impact during long-term use followed by detailed knowledge about recycling and waste management.  Within this large efforts are put in the design and development of new biocomposites using renewable fibres instead of inert ones. The thesis deals with surface modifications of agricultural fibres and the design of biocomposites with optimal long-term properties balancing the potential risk for biodegradation. The first part of this thesis involved surface modifications of oil palm fibres and production of biocomposites with PP as matrix. The chemical surface modifications of oil palm fibres explored propionylation, PPgMA grafting via solution modification and reactive blending and vinyltrimethoxy silanization as methods. All modified fibre/PP biocomposites showed improvements in the mechanical properties followed also by an improvement of water resistance. In comparison with unmodificed fibres/PP matrix the highest water resistance after the surface modifications of oil palm fibres were observed for silanization followed by PPgMA modified,  PPgMA blending and  propionylation.The second part aimed at producing fully biodegradable biocomposites and analysing the resulting properties with respect to potential risk for biodegradation. Sisal fibres were incorporated in PLA and PHBV and the resulting risk for biodegradation using a fungus, Aspergillus niger, monitored. Neat PLA and PHBV were compared with the corresponding biocomposites and already without fibres both polymers were notably biodegraded by Aspergillus niger. The degree of biodegradation of PLA and PHBV matrices was related to the extent of the growth on the material surfaces. Adding sisal fibres gave a substantial increase in the growth on the surfaces of the biocomposites.Correlating the type of surface modification of sisal fibres with degree of biodegradation, it was demonstrated that all chemically modified sisal/PLA biocomposites were less biodegraded than unmodified sisal biocomposites.  Propionylated sisal/PLA demonstrated the best resistance to biodegradation of all biocomposites while sisal/CA/PLA demonstrated high level of biodegradation after severe invasion by Aspergillus niger.In general, the biodegradation correlated strongly with the degree of water absorption and surface modifications that increase the hydrophobicity is a route to improve the resistance to biodegradation.Designing new biocomposites using renewable fibres and non-renewable and renewable matrices involve the balancing of the increase in mechanical properties, after improved adhesion between fibres and the polymer matrix, with the potential risk for biodegradation.

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