John Wolodko1 and Kirill Alemaskin2
1Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Sciences, and Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
2Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures, 250 Karl Clark Road, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Natural fibers derived from both forestry and agricultural feedstocks are seen as potential candidates for replacing glass fibers as reinforcement in composite materials. The main advantages of natural fibers are their environmental benefits (renewable, sustainable), relatively low density, and low cost. Over the past few decades, there has been increased use of these bio-based materials in a variety of applications including building products, automotive, infrastructure applications, consumer goods and packaging. While there has been considerable research in this area, there has been relatively little work done to understand the effects of fiber processing on the performance of natural fiber composites. In this study, a technical and commercial assessment was conducted to determine the viability of using pulped natural fibers (from forestry and agricultural sources) in thermoplastic composite applications such as extruded and injection molded parts. The effect of pulping method (mechanical and chemical pulping) and composite processing method on the resulting mechanical/structural material properties were quantified and compared to the current commercial standard (i.e. E-glass composites). By combining the measured properties derived in this study with the estimated costs for each processed fiber option, an approximate cost-benefit (price vs. performance) of each material variation was determined.