Natural fibres fulfil all the requirements in order toreplace inorganic fillers in thermoplastic composites. Naturalfibres are inexpensive, renewable, biodegradable, present lowerdensity and their mechanical properties can be compared tothose of inorganic fillers. However, several disadvantagesappear when natural fibres are used for composites. First ofall, the poor compatibility between the hydrophilic fibres withthe hydrophobic thermoplastic matrix leads to a weak interface,which results in poor mechanical properties. On the other hand,the hydrophilic nature of the fibres makes them very sensitivetowards water absorption, which leads also to the loss ofproperties and the swelling and dimensional instability.
In order to enhance the compatibility fibre-matrix, thefibres were chemically surface modified by five differentmethods: a) graft copolymerisation withpolypropylene-graftedmaleic anhydride copolymer (PPgMA), b)modification by PPgMA during processing, c) modification byorganosilanes, d) acetylation, e) modification with peroxideoligomers. Modified fibres led to improved mechanicalproperties and thermal behaviour when used in composites withpost-industrial polypropylene (PP) containing ethylene vinylacetate copolymer (EVA). Modification with peroxide oligomersshowed very promising results, but modification with PPgMA waschosen for further preparation of composites due to itssimplicity.
Two sets of composites were prepared using two differentpolypropylene types as matrix: virgin polypropylene (PP) andthe above mentioned post-industrial polypropylene (PP/EVA).Four different types of cellulosic fibres were used as fillers:cellulose fibres from pulping, sisal fibres, coir fibres andLuffa sponge fibres. The mechanical properties of thecomposites were dependent mostly on the fibre loading andslightly on the type of fibre. The fibers changed thecharacteristics of the material leading a higher stiffness buta lower toughness.
Water absorption of composites was studied at threedifferent temperatures: 23°C, 50°C and 70°C. Thewater absorption kinetics were studied and it was found thatwater is absorbed in composites following the kineticsdescribed by the Fickian diffusion theory. After absorption, animportant loss of properties was observed, due to thedestruction of the fibre structure due to the waterabsorbed.
Stockholm: Fiber- och polymerteknologi , 2003. , 38 p.