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Use of Industrial Hemp Fibers to Reinforce Wheat Gluten Plastics

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The next generation of manufactured products must be sustainable and industrially eco-efficient, making materials derived from plants an alternative of particular interest. Wheat gluten (WG) is an interesting plant material to be used for production of plastic similar materials due to its film-forming properties. For usage of plastics in a wider range of applications, composite materials with improved mechanical properties are demanded. The present study investigates the possibilities of reinforcing WG plastics with hemp fibers. Samples were manufactured using compression molding (130 °C, 1600 bar, 5 min). Variation in fiber length, content (5, 10, 15 and 20 wt%) and quality (poor, standard, good) were evaluated. Mechanical properties and structure of materials were examined using tensile testing, light and scanning electron microscopy. Hemp fiber reinforcement of gluten plastics significantly influenced the mechanical properties of the material. Short hemp fibers processed in a high speed grinder were more homogenously spread in the material than long unprocessed fibers. Fiber content in the material showed a significant positive correlation with tensile strength and Young’s modulus, and a negative correlation with fracture strain and strain at maximum stress. Quality of the hemp fibers did not play any significant role for tensile strength and strain, but the Young’s modulus was significantly and positively correlated with hemp fiber quality. Despite the use of short hemp fibers, the reinforced gluten material still showed uneven mechanical properties within the material, a result from clustering of the fibers and too poor bonding between fibers and gluten material. Both these problems have to be resolved before reinforcement of gluten plastics by industrial hemp fibers is applicable on an industrial scale.

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This work was financed by Formas, Sweden. The authors thank Maria Luisa Prieto-Linde for practical help in the laboratory and Kerstin Brismar for her assistance with SEM.

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Correspondence to E. Johansson.

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Wretfors, C., Cho, SW., Hedenqvist, M.S. et al. Use of Industrial Hemp Fibers to Reinforce Wheat Gluten Plastics. J Polym Environ 17, 259–266 (2009).

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