Scientists from The University of Manchester have combined graphene with the natural fiber, jute, to create a world’s first for graphene-strengthened natural jute fiber composites.
The breakthrough could lead to the manufacturing of high-performance and environmentally friendly natural fiber composites that could replace their synthetic counterparts in major manufacturing areas, such as the automotive industry, ship building, durable wind turbine blades and low-cost housing.
It could also boost the farming economies of countries such as Bangladesh, India, and China — where the jute material is mainly produced — the researchers from The University of Manchester claim.
The University is home to the National Graphene Institute and the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre which provide an unrivalled critical mass of graphene expertise. The two facilities demonstrate Manchester’s position as a globally leading knowledge base in graphene research and commercialization.
Jute is extracted from the bark of the white jute plant (Corchorus capsularis) and is a 100 percent bio-degradable, recyclable and environmentally friendly natural fiber. It is also the second most produced natural fiber in the world — after cotton — and is at least 50 percent cheaper than flax and other similar natural fibers.
This makes it extremely appealing to different industry sectors looking to create a cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic composites. That is why natural fiber composites are attracting significant interest due to potential to reduce carbon foot print by replacing synthetically produced materials, such as glass fiber, which costs more and can be harmful for the planet.
Forkan Sarker, a Commonwealth Scholarship recipient for Bangladesh, has carried out the experiments and analysis of the data for this study, and the publication showing graphene could be critical is available online.
Professor Prasad Potluri, Director of Research, North West Composites Centre, says, “Forkan Sarker joined my group with a view to work on a PhD problem relevant to his country’s economy.
“This is an example of judicious combination of low-value, carbon-neutral commodity fibres with an extremely small volume fraction of high-value graphene in order to create a material system that could replace energy-intensive carbon and glass fibers in a number of light-weight structural applications.”
Despite their environmental credentials, natural fiber composites suffer from poor mechanical and interfacial properties, which mean they’re not strong enough for some industrial applications. That is why researchers from The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute (NGI) and Robotics and Textile Composites Group have been working on a collaborative project and coating jute fibers with graphene oxide and graphene flakes to improve its strength.
The results have been extremely positive and show that the jute fibers with a graphene coating have enhanced interfacial shear strength of around 200 percent — with flexural strength increasing by nearly 100 percent when compared to the untreated fibers.
Dr. Nazmul Karim, Knowledge Exchange Fellow (Graphene) at National Graphene Institute, says, “We have been working on graphene and other 2D materials-based natural fibers for several years in Prof Novoselov’s group. It is great to translate that experience into developing high performance natural fibers composites.”
Karim, who also conceived the idea and designed the experiments of incorporating graphene onto jute, adds: “Jute, once known as the golden fibers of Bangladesh, lost its glaze in the 1980s after synthetic materials like polythene and plastics were introduced. However, with growing environmental concerns with plastics, the use of natural fibers such as Jute is on rise again.
“Moreover, the use of jute in automobile interiors by global car giants has been growing rapidly with a current demand of 100,000 tons a year. I believe our graphene-based jute fibers could play a very important role in meeting the growing demand of more environmentally friendly products for various industries.”
Source: University of Manchester