Biofoams and Biocomposites based on Wheat Gluten Proteins

Abstract: Novel uses of wheat gluten (WG) proteins, obtained e.g. as a coproduct from bio-ethanol production, are presented in this thesis. A flame-retardant foam was prepared via in-situ polymerization of hydrolyzed tetraethyl orthosilicate (TEOS) in a denatured WG matrix (Paper I). The TEOS formed a well-dispersed silica phase in the walls of the foam. With silica contents ≥ 6.7 wt%, the foams showed excellent fire resistance. An aspect of the bio-based foams was their high sensitivity to fungi and bacterial growth. This was addressed in Paper II using a natural antimicrobial agent Lanasol. In the same paper, a swelling of 32 times its initial weight in water was observed for the pristine WG foam and both capillary effects and cell wall absorption contributed to the high uptake. In Paper III, conductive and flexible foams were obtained using carbon-based nanofillers and plasticizer. It was found that the electrical resistance of the carbon nanotubes and carbon black filled foams were strain-independent, which makes them suitable for applications in electromagnetic shielding (EMI) and electrostatic discharge protection (ESD). Paper IV describes a ‘water-welding’ method where larger pieces of WG foams were made by wetting the sides of the smaller cubes before being assembled together. The flexural strength of welded foams was ca. 7 times higher than that of the same size WG foam prepared in one piece. The technique provides a strategy for using freeze-dried WG foams in applications where larger foams are required.Despite the versatile functionalities of the WG-based materials, the mechanical properties are often limited due to the brittleness of the dry solid WG. WG/flax composites were developed for improved mechanical properties of WG (Paper V). The results revealed that WG, reinforced with 19 wt% flax fibres, had a strength that was ca. 8 times higher than that of the pure WG matrix. Furthermore, the crack-resistance was also significantly improved in the presence of the flax.