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Accepted Manuscript

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood - General Mechanical Property Profiles

Lukas Sobczak, Reinhold W. Lang, Andreas Haider

PII:

S0266-3538(11)00448-9

DOI:

Reference:

CSTE 5140

To appear in:

Composites Science and Technology

Received Date:

24 October 2011

Accepted Date:

16 December 2011

24 October 2011 Accepted Date: 16 December 2011 Please cite this article as: Sobczak, L., Lang,

Please cite this article as: Sobczak, L., Lang, R.W., Haider, A., Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood - General Mechanical Property Profiles, Composites Science and Technology (2012), doi: 10.1016/

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Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles Polypropylene Composites

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood - General Mechanical Property Profiles

Fibers and Wood - General Mechanical Property Profiles Lukas Sobczak a 1 , Reinhold W. Lang

Lukas Sobczak a1 , Reinhold W. Lang b , Andreas Haider a

a

Competence Centre for Wood Composites and Wood Chemistry (Wood K plus), Division Wood- Polymer-Composites; St. Peter-Straße 25, 4020 Linz, Austria

b

Johannes Kepler University Linz, Institute for Polymer Materials and Testing; Altenberger Straße 69, 4040 Linz, Austria

1 Corresponding Author l.sobczak@klus-wood.at

Tel.:

+43 732 6911 4082

Fax:

+43 732 6911 2864

Abstract

Natural Fiber Composites (NFC) and Wood Polymer Composites (WPC) based on

polypropylene (PP) have gained increasing interest over the past two decades, both

in the scientific community and in industry. Meanwhile, a large number of publications

and in industry. Meanwhile, a large number of publications is available, but yet the actual market

is available, but yet the actual market penetration of such materials is rather limited.

To close the existing gap between scientific and technical knowledge, on the one

hand, and actual market applications, on the other, it is the purpose of this paper to

analyze the current state of knowledge on mechanical performance profiles of

injection molded NFCs and WPCs. As the composite properties are a result of the

constituent properties and their interactions, special attention is also given to

mechanical fiber/filler properties. Moreover, considering that NFCs and WPCs for a

variety of potential applications compete with mineral reinforced (mr; represented in

this study by talc), short glass fiber (sgf), long glass fiber (lgf) and short carbon fiber

(scf) reinforced PP, property profiles of the latter materials are included in the

analysis. To visualize the performance characteristics of the various materials in a

comparative manner, the data were compiled and illustrated in so-called Ashby plots.

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles Based on these

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

Based on these comparisons, an assessment of the substitution potential of NFCs

and WPCs is finally performed, along with a discussion of still open issues, which

may help in guiding future material development and market application efforts.

Keywords: Natural Fiber Composites (NFCs), Wood (A), Short-fiber composites (A), Mechanical properties (B), Injection
Keywords: Natural Fiber Composites (NFCs), Wood (A), Short-fiber composites (A),
Mechanical properties (B), Injection molding (E)
Abbreviation
Explanation
NFC
WPC
Natural Fiber Composite, meaning a fiber/matrix composite that contains natural
fibers or wood based cellulose fibers
Wood Polymer Composite, meaning a filler/matrix composite that contains wood
particles
M w
IS
m%
mr
sgf
lgf
scf
PP-(x%)y
unbl., bl.
u.K.p., bl.K.p.
Ten.®
Weight average molecular mass
Impact strength
mass percent
mineral reinforced
short glass fiber, usually below 1 mm in length
long glass fiber, usually 5 – 10 mm in length
short carbon fiber
Polypropylene reinforced with y (x m% of y)
bleached, unbleached (Figure 4-1, Figure 4-2, Figure 4-3)
unbleached Kraft pulp, bleached Kraft pulp (Table 4-1)
Tencel®, wood based cellulose fiber (Table 4-1)
Table 0-1: Abbreviations used in the text;
1 Introduction While polyolefins, in particular PP, have been reinforced commercially with glass fibers and
1
Introduction
While polyolefins, in particular PP, have been reinforced commercially with glass
fibers and particle minerals (e.g. talc, wollastonite) for several decades, more recently
natural fibers and wood have become of engineering and commercial interest to
produce
novel
classes
of
natural
fiber
composites
(NFC;
see
Table
0-1
for
abbreviations) and wood polymer composites (WPC) [1-3]. In terms of markets and
applications, it is particularly the automotive industry [4-6] and the building and
construction industry [7-9] which have expressed interest in using such materials.

Along with cost saving aspects and expected ecological benefits (e.g. improvement in

CO 2 -balance [10, part III;11;12]), the main motivation driving these developments is

related to the mechanical property profiles of natural fibers and wood, which indicate

a substantial reinforcement potential. Combined with the low density of natural fibers

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles and wood (see

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

and wood (see Table 2-1), NFCs and WPCs may result in lighter weight structures

when compared to mineral reinforced (mr), short glass fiber (sgf), long glass fiber (lgf)

and short carbon fiber (scf) reinforced materials [13-15]. In addition, NFCs and WPCs

reinforced materials [13-15]. In addition, NFCs and WPCs can be processed similar to these other material

can be processed similar to these other material classes, e.g. by injection molding

and extrusion. In fact, in terms of processing behavior, NFCs and WPCs may even

offer advantages with regard to equipment wear [13;15;16].

Despite the high industrial interest in NFCs and WPCs, and the significant scientific

efforts particularly over the past decade, no comprehensive overview exists on

mechanical property profiles of various material grades that allows for a proper

comparison among these novel PP-based materials. Such a comparison is also

lacking with materials already used commercially, such as mr, sgf, lgf and the more

novel scf composites, with which NFCs and WPCs are supposed to compete.

glass and carbon fiber
glass
and
carbon
fiber

Hence, the overall objective of this paper is to provide a comprehensive overview of

the mechanical property profiles of NFCs and WPCs, and to compare these

properties to those achieved by existing commercial composites based on mineral,

For

various

reasons

(cost

and/or

reinforcements.

performance), NFCs and WPCs are frequently produced with high fiber/wood

content, so that special emphasis was paid to cover the natural fiber or wood content

range up to about 70 m%. This reinforcement level also corresponds to the limit of

adequate processability of high quality products by injection molding [17].

2 Materials and Methods

All of the data presented here is taken from scientific literature or from material data

sheets provided by the suppliers. To ensure a sufficient comparability of the material

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles property values given,

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

property values given, only data generated utilizing injection molded specimens and

applying equivalent test procedures and conditions has been included.

Table 2-1 provides some general information on the densities and current prices for

general information on the densities and current prices for the constituents of the various material grades

the constituents of the various material grades included in this overview. Throughout

this paper, the term “natural fibers” refers to plant-based fibers (like jute, hemp,

kenaf, sisal, flax) and wood based cellulose fibers (Kraft pulp, unbleached cellulose,

regenerate cellulose such as Tencel®). On the other hand, the term “wood particles”

as they are used in WPCs refers to the grinded state of solid wood which lacks the

characteristic of a higher aspect ratio.

One advantage of natural fibers clearly apparent from Table 2-1 is their lower density.

While conventional reinforcements (scf, sgf, talc) exhibit a density range from 1.7 to

2.8 g/cm 3 , the density range for natural fibers and wood (compressed state as it

range for natural fibers and wood (compressed state as it occurs in WPCs as a result

occurs in WPCs as a result of processing) is from about 1.3 to 1.6 g/cm 3 . The effects

of the processing steps from solid wood to wood particles, and of compression during

WPC processing, are expected to result in a corresponding alteration in mechanical

properties. Since no data for modulus and strength of wood fillers in the compressed

state are available, the comparisons performed in chapter 3 with regard to wood as

reinforcement are perhaps of limited quantitative value but were nevertheless

included to provide an overall relative picture.

The reinforcement prices range from about 0.2 /kg for spruce at the lower end to

20.0 /kg for short carbon fibers at the upper end. For comparison, polypropylene

typically has a price level of 1.0 to 1.4 /kg, depending on the specific grade and the

order volume. In other words, from the reinforcements considered in this overview,

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles most are below

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

most

are below the price level

of

the PP matrix,

while in some cases,

the

reinforcement prices may exceed the PP matrix price.

Material Density [g/cm 3 ] Price [ /kg] Source PP 0.90 1.0 – 1.4 [18]
Material
Density [g/cm 3 ]
Price [ /kg]
Source
PP
0.90
1.0 – 1.4
[18]
scf
1.70 – 1.77
10.0 – 20.0
[13;19;20]
sgf
2.50
0.9 – 1.6
[13;21]
Talc
2.75
0.3 – 1.0
[22]
Tencel®
1.55
-
[23]
Flax
1.50
0.3 – 1.3 (upper bound: pellets)
[13;24, page 12] [25,
page 119;26]
Hemp
1.48
0.3 – 1.0 (upper bound: pellets)
[14;25, page 119;26]
Jute
1.30
0.5 – 0.7
[13;25, page 119]
Kenaf
-
0.4 – 1.5
[14;27]
Sisal
1.45
0.5 – 0.8
[13;25, page 119;27]
Spruce
0.45- 0.50 (uncompr.)
~ 1.30 (compressed)
0.2 - 0.4
[28;29]
Table 2-1: Densities and prices of Polypropylene and several conventional reinforcements plus natural
fibers and wood (spruce);
For the material property data of the reinforcement constituents and the respective
data of the reinforcement constituents and the respective PP compounds processed by injection molding (sections 3

PP compounds processed by injection molding (sections 3 and 4, respectively), the

“Ashby plot” [30] was chosen as means of presentation. In terms of relevant

properties, Ashby plots were generated as tensile strength vs. tensile modulus for the

reinforcement constituents, and as tensile strength vs. tensile modulus and impact

strength vs. tensile modulus for PP and its various compounds (i.e., PP composites).

Due to the lack of data covering a wider range of test conditions, for IS values room

temperature data for unnotched Charpy specimens were selected. To allow for a

comparison of the material property profiles in terms of the potential for lightweight

structural design, the Ashby plots for tensile modulus and strength are illustrated for

absolute property values but also for specific property values (i.e. absolute values

divided by the respective material density). For the latter representations, the proper

material density values were obtained from the literature when available, or were

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles calculated applying a

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

calculated applying a simple rule-of-mixture model from the constituent volume

contents and the constituent densities in Table 2-1.

3 Fiber properties

The tensile strength vs. modulus properties of various natural fibers are compared to

modulus properties of various natural fibers are compared to those of conventional fibers for PP reinforcement

those of conventional fibers for PP reinforcement (sgf/lgf, scf) in Figure 3-1 and

Figure 3-2 in terms of absolute properties and specific properties, respectively. The

data for the various fiber types and grades were taken from the references indicated

in Table 3-1 and, in the case of the natural fibers, represent dry fiber conditions.

Before depicting the fiber properties in Ashby-plots, the following aspect with regard

to the variability of fiber strength and modulus values must be pointed out. While

strength and modulus of specific grades of conventional fibers usually meet quite

narrow tolerances,

natural fibers are known to vary substantially [13;31]. For

natural fibers are known to vary substantially [13;31]. For example, modulus and strength values of jute

example, modulus and strength values of jute fibers may vary from about 13 - 27

GPa and from about 390 - 770 MPa, respectively. Similar variations are known for

wood (e.g., European spruce: Young’s modulus range from about 7 - 21 GPa; tensile

strength range from 20 - 250 MPa [28]). Kenaf has not yet been investigated to an

extent so that similar variations could be deduced from the literature. In any case, the

reported variability of properties of a specific natural fiber type is accounted for by

including the reported upper and lower bound values in the Ashby plots below. In

terms of absolute properties, Young’s modulus values of natural fibers and wood

range from about 7 - 70 GPa [14;28], while modulus values for conventional fibers

range from about 70 GPa (sgf/lgf [13]) to 240 GPa (scf [19]). Alternatively, the

conventional fibers exhibit significantly higher strength values, ranging from about

2,000 MPa (E-type sgf/lgf [13]) to 4,000 – 4,570 MPa (scf, S-type sgf/lgf [13]),

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles compared to natural

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

compared to natural fibers and wood ranging from about 20 - 1,100 MPa [13;28]. In

other words, conventional fibers significantly outperform natural fibers and wood in

terms of strength, but in terms of modulus, some natural fibers such as hemp and

in terms of modulus, some natural fibers such as hemp and kenaf nearly reach the values

kenaf nearly reach the values of at least glass fibers. Of course, when comparing just

the two groups of natural reinforcements in Figure 3-1, the fiber reinforcements are

seen to supersede the wood reinforcements both in terms of strength and modulus.

Due to the density differences of the various fiber types and wood, the specific

properties depicted in Figure 3-2 are somewhat different to those in Figure 3-1. First,

as described above (section 2), the data points for the wood type reinforcements are

of limited relevance for PP composites, as they correspond to an uncompressed

state with very low density which is not representative of the more highly compressed

state in a PP compound. Second, the specific modulus data for glass fibers are

shifted into the range of the corresponding values of natural fibers, with hemp even

exceeding the specific modulus values of glass fibers. Third, the highest values for specific strength
exceeding the specific modulus values of glass fibers. Third, the highest values for
specific strength of natural fibers are achieved for flax, which is now approaching the
lower end of the specific strength range for glass fibers. Finally, carbon fibers, due to
their low density, still retain their superiority compared to all other fibers with regard to
specific modulus values. The lower density compared to glass fibers now also
translates into higher values for specific strength of the carbon fibers.
Carbon
Glass
Tencel
Flax
Hemp
Jute
Kenaf
Sisal
Spruce
Oak
[13;19]
[13]
[23]
[13;31]
[14;31]
[13]
[14]
[13]
[28]
[32]

Table 3-1: References for the tensile property data of the various reinforcement types presented in Figure 3-1 and Figure 3-2.

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles 5000 4500 4000

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

5000 4500 4000 3500 3000 2500 Carbon E-glass 2000 S-glass 1500 Tencel® Flax Hemp Jute
5000
4500
4000
3500
3000
2500
Carbon
E-glass
2000
S-glass
1500
Tencel®
Flax
Hemp
Jute
1000
Kenaf
Sisal
500
European Spruce
European Oak
0
0
50
100
150
200
250
Young's Modulus [GPa]
Tensile Strength [MPa]
2500 2000 1500 Carbon E-glass S-glass 1000 Tencel® Flax Hemp Jute 500 Sisal European Spruce
2500
2000
1500
Carbon
E-glass
S-glass
1000
Tencel®
Flax
Hemp
Jute
500
Sisal
European Spruce
European Oak
0
0
50
100
150
Specific Young's Modulus [MJ/kg]
Figure 3-2:
Ashby plot presenting the specific tensile
strength versus the specific Young’s
modulus for various fiber types (property
divided by density).
Specific Tensile Strength [kJ/kg]

Figure 3-1: Ashby plot presenting the absolute tensile strength versus the Young’s modulus for various fiber types.

4

Composite properties

4.1 Tensile properties

The tensile properties of various PP composites are depicted in Figure 4-1 and

of various PP composites are depicted in Figure 4-1 and Figure 4-2 in absolute and relative

Figure 4-2 in absolute and relative terms, respectively, as strength vs. modulus

diagrams. The data for the various materials were taken from the references

indicated in Table 4-1 and, in the case of the natural fiber/filler composites, represent

dry specimen conditions. In both diagrams, the property range covered by neat PP

homopolymers is included for comparison.

From the illustration of the absolute properties in Figure 4-1 it becomes apparent that

the property regions covered by conventional fiber/filler composites and by the

natural fiber/filler composites approach one another, although they are clearly

separated in Figure 3-1, which depicts the absolute fiber/filler properties. While the

general tendency of this shift can be explained by rule of mixture considerations,

several effects remain remarkable. To begin with, the property areas covered by the

NFCs and the WPCs overlap to a greater extent than is the case just for the page 8 of 22

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles reinforcement constituents

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

reinforcement constituents in Figure 3-1. This is at least partly due to the fact that the

WPCs included contain up to 70 m% wood particles while the NFCs are limited to a

fiber content of about 60 m% (in terms of fiber/filler volume content the differences

and tensile strength. Conversely, PP-sgf/lgf
and
tensile
strength.
Conversely,
PP-sgf/lgf

are slightly larger due to differences in density; see Table 2-1). Nevertheless, while

with WPCs modulus/strength combinations of up to about 7 GPa / 55 MPa [17;33]

are obtained, for NFCs about 11 GPa / 75 MPa may be achieved [34].

When comparing the natural fiber/filler composite data to conventional PP composite

data, the following observations are made. NFCs and WPCs exist that outperform

PP-talc composites, which exhibit modulus/strength values of about 4 GPa / 35 MPa

[35],

both

in

terms

of

modulus

composites cover a modulus/strength regime from about 5 GPa / 75 MPa [36] up to

13 GPa / 135 MPa [37], which is clearly above the property range covered by NFCs

and WPCs. Interestingly, the values achieved for PP-scf composites, both in

the values achieved for PP-scf composites, both in scientific investigations [19] and for commercial products

scientific investigations [19] and for commercial products [38;39], fall significantly

short of rule of mixture based expectations. This is particularly the case for the tensile

strength values, where PP-scf composites cover a range similar to NFCs and even

overlap with WPCs. Merely, the modulus values of PP-scf composites exceed those

of the other material classes in Figure 4-1, although in this case too, to a lesser

degree than expected based on the respective fiber modulus data.

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles neat PP 150

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

neat PP 150 Carbon 20 140 27 40 130 Glass 20 sgf 30 sgf 40
neat PP
150
Carbon
20
140
27
40
130
Glass
20
sgf
30
sgf
40
sgf
120
50
lgf
Talc
110
20
40
Flax
100
25
30
60
90
40
Hemp
80
Jute
40
50
60
70
Kenaf
20
60
40
50
60
50
30
Sisal
unbl. Kraft pulp
40
30
45
30
40
bl. Kraft pulp
33
Tencel®
20
Wood particles
30
40
10
50
60
70
0
Tensile Strength [MPa]

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16

Young's Modulus [GPa]

18

20

22

24

Figure 4-1: Ashby plot presenting the tensile strength versus the Young’s modulus of various PP compounds. The numbers in the legend give the fiber/filler content in [m%].

neat PP 120 Carbon 20 27 110 40 Glass 20 sgf 100 30 sgf 40
neat PP
120
Carbon
20
27
110
40
Glass
20
sgf
100
30
sgf
40
sgf
50
lgf
90
Talc
20
40
Flax
80
25
30
60
70
40
Hemp
Jute
40
60
50
60
Kenaf
50
20
40
50
60
40
30
Sisal
unbl. Kraft pulp
30
30
45
40
bl. Kraft pulp
20
33
Tencel®
Wood particles
30
10
40
50
60
70
0
Specific Tensile Strength [kJ/kg]

0

2

Figure 4-2:

4

6

Specific Young's Modulus [MJ/kg]

8

10

12

14

16

18

20

22

24

Ashby plot presenting the specific

tensile strength versus

Young’s modulus of various PP compounds (property divided by density).

the specific

Filler

Content

Sources

Filler

Content

Sources

Filler

Content

Sources

[m%]

[m%]

[m%]

scf

20

[39]

Flax

25

[40]

u.K.p.

30

[41]

27

[19]

30

[42-45]

45

[41]

40

[19;38]

60

[46]

b.K.p.

40

[47]

sgf

20

[36]

Hemp

40

[47-49]

Ten.®

33

[23]

30

[50;51]

Jute

40

[34]

Wood

30

[52;53]

40

[35]

50

[34;54]

40

[53;55;56]

lgf

50

[37]

60

[34]

50

[17;33;53]

Talc

20

[57;58]

Kenaf

20

[59]

60

[17;33]

40

[35;60]

40

[59;61]

70

[17;33]

 

50

[35;61]

 

60

[59]

Sisal

30

[62;63]

Table 4-1: References for the mechanical property data of the various compounds presented in Figure 4-1, Figure 4-2 and Figure 4-3; neat PP data is taken from [64;65].

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles The specific

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

The specific modulus/strength diagram in Figure 4-2 reveals similar tendencies as

discussed above for the absolute property ranges of the various material types.

Reflecting the density differences, the NFCs and WPCs now appear further improved

differences, the NFCs and WPCs now appear further improved compared to PP/talc composites, and the upper

compared to PP/talc composites, and the upper bound strength ratio between PP/lgf

and NFCs is now reduced from about 1.8:1 in terms of absolute strength to 1.5:1 in

terms of specific strength. In terms of specific modulus, the upper bound values of

these two material classes now even approach one another. Similar ratios were

found by Wambua et al. in a comparison of glass fiber and natural fiber reinforced PP

composites (i.e. 40 m% fiber content, prepared by a film stacking method) [66].

Furthermore, the differences in the upper bound values of specific modulus data

between PP-scf and PP-sgf are slightly enhanced.

4.2 Impact properties

The impact properties of the various material classes are illustrated and compared in

values

vs.

Young’s

modulus

values.

Most

Figure 4-3 as unnotched Charpy
Figure
4-3
as
unnotched
Charpy

remarkably is the specific NFC grade utilizing the commercial cellulose fiber Tencel®.

It is the only reinforcement type that allows for significant improvements in modulus

without sacrificing the impact properties when compared to the lower bound range of

neat PP which represents grades with low weight average molecular mass, (M w ) [23].

However, higher M w PPs reach unnotched Charpy impact strength (IS) values

reaching 100 kJ/m 2 and even higher, up to a point where unnotched specimens do

no longer break upon the impact [67]. Apart from the Tencel® reinforced PPs,

unnotched impact strength values of all other PP composites are reduced compared

to

neat

PP,

with

PP-sgf

exhibiting

the

least

reductions,

followed

by

PP-talc

composites and NFCs, with WPCs revealing the most significant reductions. A study

by Wambua et al. on compression molded composites prepared by a film stacking

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles method (cited already

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

method (cited already above for tensile properties) also supports the data reviewed

here for injection molded composites in terms of material ranking and property ratios.

Thus, for a comparable fiber content, glass mat reinforced PPs also exhibit about

IS of NFCs and WPCs can be enhanced
IS
of NFCs
and WPCs can be
enhanced

twice the unnotched Charpy IS of natural fiber mat reinforced PPs [66].

Numerous studies exist on factors controlling the impact strength of NFCs and

WPCs. As to the influence of the particle size, it is clear that this parameter may play

an important role, however no clear and unambiguous tendencies can be deducted

from the published literature as yet [52;68-71]. Conversely, for unnotched specimens,

IS is usually improved by enhanced coupling [45;55;71;72], whereas for notched

specimens, the improvement is often not so significant, with even reductions in

impact values resulting from increased coupling having been reported [56;68;73-77].

Furthermore, it is well proven that

significantly by rubber toughening of the PP matrix, however in all cases at the cost

of modulus reductions [55;78-80].
of modulus reductions [55;78-80].

Nevertheless, despite all the efforts to study impact properties of NFCs and WPCs,

no study is available that unambiguously explains the cause of the poor impact

performance of these materials, when compared to neat PP and PP-sgf and PP-talc

composites. Moreover, there is not a sufficient database for a comprehensive

comparison of impact properties for the material grades of interest to this paper.

Particularly, a more detailed analysis of the effects of notches on impact strength and

the influence of test temperature, to deduce brittle-ductile transitions, is lacking. In

this context, it is known from preliminary investigations that notched impact properties

of PP-sgf composites and PP composites with Tencel® fibers may even exceed the

values obtained with neat PP [23;36;50;51]. Clearly, more work is needed to study

and perhaps optimize the impact behavior of NFCs and WPCs.

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles 60 50 40

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

60 50 40 30 20 10 0 IS Charpy unnotched [kJ/m 2 ]
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
IS Charpy unnotched [kJ/m 2 ]

5

neat PP Figure 4-3: Ashby plot presenting the unnotched Charpy impact strength vs. the Glass
neat PP
Figure 4-3: Ashby plot presenting the
unnotched Charpy impact strength vs. the
Glass
20
sgf
30
sgf
Young’s modulus of various PP
compounds. The numbers in the legend
Talc
give the fiber/filler content in [m%].
20
40
30 Flax
unbl. Kraft pulp
30
45
33 Tencel®
Wood particles
30
40
50
60
70
0
2
4
6
8
10
Young's Modulus [GPa]
Open Issues

As modern PP-NFCs and PP-WPCs still represent rather novel classes of materials,

and despite the fact that quite a lot is known on the properties and on the behavior of

these materials, it is also not surprising that there are a number of issues that are as

yet unresolved and thus deserve further attention. These open issues include

non-polar hydrocarbon matrix the interfacial adhesion in these
non-polar
hydrocarbon
matrix
the
interfacial
adhesion
in
these

and

aspects related to material property and performance profiles, to the processing

behavior and adequate processing conditions, and – last but not least – aspects in

relation to the ecological impact and life cycle assessment.

With regard to material and performance related issues, a particular problem in the

case of polyolefin-based NFCs and WPCs is the inherent incompatibility between the

the

usually

hydrophilic

ligno-cellulosic

reinforcements. While numerous scientific studies in recent years aimed at improving

materials,

a

detailed

understanding

of

the

mechanisms of bonding affecting and improving the fracture properties and the

failure behavior is still lacking [14;81-84].

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles Another aspect of

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

Another aspect of practical relevance that needs further study is related to the effects

of moisture on the material properties and performance profiles of polyolefinic NFCs

and WPCs. For example, for WPCs with high filler levels (70 – 87 m%), Svoboda [10,

WPCs with high filler levels (70 – 87 m%), Svoboda [10, page 145 ff.] found that

page 145 ff.] found that the tensile properties (strength and modulus) are reduced by

up to 55 % (70 m% wood) when the material has absorbed more than 10 % moisture

upon water immersion. Viksne et al. report significant reductions (up to 30%) in

flexural properties for PP-based WPCs with 50 m% filler content upon three water

absorption/desorption cycles [85]. Similar effects on tensile properties were found by

Arbelaiz et al. [46] for PP reinforced with 20 – 60 m% flax fibers. These studies

provide a good indication of the property reductions to be expected by moisture

absorption, and numerous other reports on the effects of moisture on the mechanical

behavior exist [71;86-100]. And yet, considering the pronounced sensitivity to

moisture uptake of these PP based NFCs and WPCs, further investigations are

under typical climatic conditions.
under typical climatic conditions.

needed to deduce guidelines for component design and performance for applications

Other aspects not sufficiently addressed so far are related to expected improvements

in noise and vibration damping of PP based NFCs and WPCs [6;101-103]. In this

context, advantages of NFCs and WPCs over conventional polymer composites are

frequently argued, however, quantitative data and information is rather scarce. Thus,

to our knowledge no article exists which compares the acoustic properties of, for

instance, NFC or WPC based automotive interior panels with PP-talc based panels.

On the other hand, NFCs and WPCs are used in several applications with proven

positive results in terms of acoustic performance (e.g. automotive interior [101],

musical instruments [104] loudspeaker-boxes etc. [105]).

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles As has been

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

As has been addressed above, and completing the list of open issues related to NFC

and WPC properties, natural fibers and wood are known to exhibit substantial lot-to-

lot variations in their properties depending on plant growth and harvesting conditions [12;106, page 8].
lot variations in their properties depending on plant growth and harvesting conditions
[12;106, page 8]. Moreover, although several studies exist [107-111], emission and
odor problems that may potentially arise particularly in indoor building and automotive
interior applications deserve further attention and investigations.
Turning to open issues related to processing behavior and conditions of NFCs and
WPCs, reduced equipment wear is often argued to be advantageous compared to
PP-sgf/lgf or PP-mr [13;15;16]. While it seems likely that natural fibers or wood,
containing mostly cellulose and lignin, should cause less abrasion on the surfaces of
processing equipment than hard and sharp-edged glass fibers, for example, no
published study exists supporting and quantifying this assertion. In addition, more
precise pre-conditioning and processing conditions need to be defined to account for
the hydrophilicity of natural fibers/fillers, and for the degradation sensitivity of NFC or
WPC
compounds
when
being
processed
at
elevated
temperatures
under
simultaneous mechanical shear [112-114].
Another processing-related problem that arises when natural fibers are used as
reinforcements is their inaptitude to metering via usual dosing scales. Traditionally,
such fibers are supplied as bales or staple fibers, and are thus not free flowing.
Basically, there are two ways to overcome this drawback: First, by cutting or milling
the fibers down, until a sufficient ease of flow is achieved. Second, pelletizing of the

fibers is an option. Both of those technical solutions increase costs. Furthermore, the

first approach potentially leads to a reduction of composite properties by a reduced

fiber length. The second approach, on the other hand, raises the issue of re-

dispersion of the fibers during the compounding step and poses a problem when the page 15 of 22

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles pellets are well

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

pellets are well consolidated. A method which avoids those issues is the long fiber

granulate (LFG) process developed by the Thuringian Institute of Textile and Plastics

Research (TITK) [115]. It is a pull-drill treatment by which strands of fibers are coated
Research (TITK) [115]. It is a pull-drill treatment by which strands of fibers are coated
with a thermoplastic matrix. Thus, granules containing long fibers (of the length of the
granule) can be produced. Despite appearing like a promising alternative, to our
knowledge the process has not yet been implemented on industrial scale.
There are several other topics and problems that require attention when applying
NFCs and WPCs in technical products. These include the long-term performance of
these materials and products, both in terms of mechanical properties but also
concerning visual appearance (e.g. color change). In fact, quite a few studies are
available on specific effects of weathering on optical and mechanical properties, and
thus on the long-term stability of these materials. The most obvious consequence of
weathering on WPCs is whitening resulting from lignin degradation [116-120]. Of
course, weathering also affects mechanical properties, usually leading to significant
reductions
[93;116;121;122].
However,
analogous
to
the
effect
of
moisture
absorption, it is difficult here too to provide general guidelines for component design
and performance for applications under typical long-term weathering conditions.
To complete the most important requirements as to material properties and product
performance profiles, flame retardance is a prime prerequisite in certain applications.
As PP-based NFCs and WPCs per se are not improved over neat PP and in certain
properties are even inferior [123;124], large amounts (usually 10 – 30 m%) of flame

retardant additives must be employed to achieve significant improvements [125-127].

Of course, utilizing such high amounts of additives may have pronounced effects on

the processing behavior and the remaining property profile of these materials

[124;128;129], which must be accounted for in specific applications.

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles Finally, and despite

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

Finally, and despite the fact that ecological considerations are frequently used as

selling argument [7;130], only limited information is available on validated eco-

balances and life cycle assessment (LCA) data of PP based NFCs and WPCs. Svoboda provides
balances and life cycle assessment (LCA) data of PP based NFCs and WPCs.
Svoboda provides a performance oriented assessment comparing several materials
based
on
renewable
resources,
including
wood
and
highly
filled WPCs,
and
conventional materials like PE, PP, PVC and aluminum, among others [10, page 177
ff.]. Depending on the conditions applied, WPCs may or may not be favorable in
terms of ecological performance. Furthermore, Michaud et al. performed LCA studies
on highly filled PE-based WPCs [131]. Also, hardly any LCA data exist on NFCs, and
the
available
data
as
to
the
actual
ecological
performance
are
ambiguous
[11;132;133]. Hence, as for the other issues mentioned above, further studies are
needed to unambiguously provide information on the ecological performance of
particularly polyolefin and PP based NFCs ad WPCs compared to other materials.
6
Summary and Conclusions
As to the fiber properties, conventional fibers such as short/long glass fibers (sgf/lgf)
and short carbon fibers (scf) exhibit significantly higher strength values than even the
best natural fibers (factor 2 – 4). In terms of modulus, some natural fibers, like, e.g.,
hemp and kenaf, show values similar to sgf/lgf, with scf modulus values superseding
these fibers by a factor of 3. Due to the lower density of natural fibers compared to
glass fibers, the specific properties of natural fibers, on the one hand, and sgf/lgf, on

the other, shift closer together. Particularly remarkable is that hemp even supersedes

sgf/lgf in the specific modulus, and flax approaches sgf in specific strength.

For the resulting PP composites, in terms of absolute properties, the picture is largely

similar, with some remarkable exceptions. First, the relative difference between NFCs page 17 of 22

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles and WPCs, on

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

and WPCs, on the one hand, and PP-sgf/lgf on the other, is reduced due to rule of

mixture based effects. Second, WPCs supersede PP-talc composites, both in

modulus and strength, while NFCs largely overlap with the PP-sgf/lgf range for

while NFCs largely overlap with the PP-sgf/lgf range for modulus and approach its lower end for

modulus and approach its lower end for strength. In terms of specific properties the

position of NFCs and WPCs relative to the conventional composites (except for PP-

scf) is again somewhat improved, due to the aforementioned density differences.

The perhaps most significant drawback of NFCs and WPCs, compared to the

conventional PP composites, is related to their lower IS. While NFCs at least partly

overlap with the PP-talc range, all WPCs exhibit inferior impact behavior. It should be

pointed out, however, that one NFC grade, i.e. PP-Tencel®, performs remarkably

well, being the only PP composite presented which retains the (unnotched Charpy) IS

level of neat PP, thus even exceeding PP-sgf composites.

IS level of neat PP, thus even exceeding PP-sgf composites. Overall, NFCs may substitute PP-sgf composites

Overall, NFCs may substitute PP-sgf composites when some reduction in strength is

accepted. WPCs, on the other hand, may replace PP-talc composites, in applications

where impact strength is not critical. Reflecting on the current state of knowledge and

technology in the field of NFCs and WPCs, there are several open issues and

aspects yet to be addressed, These include the effects of temperature and moisture

uptake on mechanical properties and processing behavior. Moreover, there is a large

variability in properties of natural fibers and wood, depending on growth and

harvesting conditions. Also, for a number of advantages usually associated with

NFCs and WPCs (i.e. reduced abrasiveness in processing, improved noise damping

behavior, improved overall ecobalance compared to conventional composites) there

is a need for quantitative and reliable data in support of these reputed benefits.

Finally, based on constituent property considerations, the performance potential of

natural fiber and wood composites at this stage may not yet be fully exploited. Hence, page 18 of 22

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles further research is

Polypropylene Composites with Natural Fibers and Wood – General Mechanical Property Profiles

further research is warranted on elucidating structure-property relationships for these

materials to overcome current weaknesses (e.g. impact strength).

7

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