Effect of mechanical recycling on the mechanical properties of PLA-based natural fiber-reinforced composites
Devine, Declan M.
Gatley, Noel M.
Bezerra, Gilberto S.N.
Colbert, Declan Mary
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The present study investigates the feasibility of utilizing polylactic acid (PLA) and PLAbased natural fiber-reinforced composites (NFRCs) in mechanical recycling. A conical twin screw extrusion (CTSE) process was utilized to recycle PLA and PLA-based NFRCs consisting of 90 wt.% PLA and a 10 wt.% proportion of either basalt fibers (BFs) or halloysite nanotubes (HNTs) for up to six recycling steps. The recycled material was then injection molded to produce standard test specimens for impact strength and tensile property analysis. The mechanical recycling of virgin PLA led to significant discoloration of the polymer, indicating degradation during the thermal processing of the polymer due to the formation of chromatophores in the structure. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) analysis revealed an increase in glass transition temperature (Tg) with respect to increased recycling steps, indicating an increased content of crystallinity in the PLA. Impact strength testing showed no significant detrimental effects on the NFRCs’ impact strength up to six recycling steps. Tensile testing of PLA/HNT NFRCs likewise did not show major decreases in values when tested. However, PLA/BF NFRCs exhibited a significant decrease in tensile properties after three recycling steps, likely due to a reduction in fiber length beyond the critical fiber length. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the fracture surface of impact specimens revealed a decrease in fiber length with respect to increased recycling steps, as well as poor interfacial adhesion between BF and PLA. This study presents a promising initial view into the mechanical recyclability of PLAbased composites.
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