Bulk Orientation of Agricultural-Filler Polypropylene Composites
Ng, Zena Sin-Nga
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When two or more individual materials combine to form a new material with improved characteristics, a composite is created. The two major components in a thermoplastic composite are the polymer, such as polypropylene (PP), and the filler, such as minerals like calcium carbonate and talc, or agricultural crop by-products like wheat straw, soy hull and soy stems. The main advantages of using agricultural fillers (AgFillers) in polypropylene are cost reduction and modulus improvement, without drastically increasing the specific gravity of the composite. These properties can be further enhanced by subjecting the composite to the bulk orientation process, in which the polymer chains align to give superior strength to the material, while the presence of polar AgFillers contributes to a reduction in material density. The objective of this research was to systematically study the relationships between the components and properties of AgFiller-PP composites, and their contributions to property modifications. Three types of AgFillers, wheat straw (WS), soy hulls (SH) and soy stems (SS) were studied, along with two PP types, virgin PP (vPP) and recycled PP (rPP), and mixtures of the two PP types. Non-oriented composites with a composition ratio of 40 wt% AgFiller to 60 wt% PP were tested for their morphology, chemical, thermal, rheological and mechanical properties. Similar properties of oriented composites with 20 wt% wheat straw filler and 80 wt% PP were also examined. The type of AgFiller was found to play a significant role in determining the rheological and mechanical properties of non-oriented AgFiller-PP composites. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) showed that AgFillers had the tendancy to align lengthwise when subjected to the extrusion process. Depending on the fiber alignment within the filler with respect to the lengthwise direction of the filler, each AgFiller contributed differently to the composites’ properties. Stem-based AgFillers like WS and SS had fiber alignment parallel to the lengthwise direction, and the composites created had higher viscosity and higher flexural modulus. On the other hand, shell-based AgFillers like SH had fiber alignment perpendicular to the filler’s length, and were found to have less contribution to viscosity increase. Fourier transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy using attenuated total reflectance (ATR) technique showed that a skin layer of PP congregated on the surface of all the non-oriented AgFiller-PP composites, regardless of the AgFiller used. The main contribution of PP polymer type was to the rheological properties of non oriented AgFiller-PP composites. The presence of rPP also appeared to slightly improve the immiscibility between polar AgFillers and nonpolar PP polymer, according to SEM image analysis. The viscosity of the composites decreased linearly with increasing amount of rPP, because the rPP tested had significantly lower viscosity than the vPP chosen. No statistically significant conclusions could be drawn on the mechanical property changes due to large experimental variance that existed in the data. Bulk orientation of AgFiller-PP composites was shown to provide significant reduction in the material’s density as well as improvement in physical properties. Experimental results of oriented wheat straw-PP composites showed that wheat straw was highly comparable, perhaps even more superior, to wood fibers as filler for oriented PP composites. The ability to produce oriented wheat straw-PP composites using the same technology and conditions as producing oriented wood-plastic composites affirmed the feasibility for commercialization of oriented wheat straw-PP composites, and by means contributing to setting a milestone in the scientific research of AgFiller-thermoplastic biocomposites.