Blue-Agave Fiber-Reinforced Polypropylene Composites for Automotive Applications

Amy Ellen Langhorst, James Burkholder, Jun Long, Robert Thomas, Alper Kiziltas, Deborah Mielewski

Abstract


As consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles increases, automakers are looking for innovative ways to reduce the weight of vehicles. Many automotive-grade plastics contain traditional reinforcing fillers, such as glass or talc, to improve the mechanical properties of the material. By replacing these high-density fillers with natural fibers, the material and corresponding weight can be reduced, which results in an improvement of the vehicle fuel economy. The objective of this study was to investigate the use of blue-agave bagasse fibers, which was sourced from tequila manufacturing waste, as a reinforcing agent in polypropylene composites. The effects of the fiber processing method, fiber loading level, and addition of a compatibilizer (polypropylene-grafted maleic anhydride) on the composite properties were determined. Samples were produced via twin-screw extrusion and injection molding. The resulting mechanical properties and morphology of the fracture surfaces were investigated. The fiber processing method (Agave C vs. Agave R) did not significantly affect the composite properties. Higher loading levels of fiber reduced both the elongation at break and impact strength, but increased the stiffness of the agave composites. The compatibilizer increased the fiber matrix adhesion, but reduced impact strength because the polymer matrix was softened.

Keywords


Composites; Natural fibers; Blue-agave; Morphology; Automotive; Melt compounding; Compatibility

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