Thermoplastic nanocomposites filled with wheat straw cellulose whiskers. Part I: Processing and mechanical behavior



Cellulose microcrystals with dimensions of ∼5 nm × 150–300 nm were obtained from wheat straw. To evaluate the reinforcing effect of these fillers within a thermoplastic matrix, composites with a weight fraction of cellulose ranging from O to 30 wt% were processed by freeze-drying and molding a mixture of aqueous suspensions of microcrystals and poly(styrene-co-butyl acrylate) latex. It was found that these microcrystals, or whiskers, bring a great reinforcing effect at temperatures higher than the glass transition temperature (Tg) of the matrix and improve the thermal stability of the composite. The relaxed modulus increased continuously with the filler content, and for a film containing 30 wt% of whiskers, it was more than a thousand times higher than that of the matrix. This effect is discussed with regard to theoretical calculations based on a mean field approach (Halpin-Kardos model). It is concluded that the great reinforcement observed seems to be due not only to the geometry and stiffness of the straw cellulose whiskers but also to the interactions of the microcrystals, their topological arrangement, and the probable formation of whisker clusters within the thermoplastic matrix, the cellulose fillers probably being linked through hydrogen bonds.