Waste pulp could be key to solving nagging composites dilemma


In Texas, researchers at Texas A&M University have created a stronger carbon-fiber composite by incorporating recycled wood waste. The newly discovered material overcomes a persistent challenge with such composites and be a gamechanger for creating stronger, lighter materials, researchers say.

Polymers reinforced by carbon fibers are strong but also lightweight, and for that reason can be used in many applications. However, scientists have struggled to distribute the carbon nanotubes evenly throughout the material, which could further improve the composite’s properties. By adding cellulose nanocrystals—a material easily obtained from recycled wood pulp—Texas A&M researchers were able to create more uniform distribution.

“The problem with nanoparticles is similar to what happens when you add coarse coffee powder to milk—the powder agglomerates or sticks to each other,” says Amir Asadi, Texas A&M University assistant professor. “To fully take advantage of the carbon nanotubes, they need to be separated from each other first, and then somehow designed to go to a particular location within the carbon-fiber composite.”

The hydrophobic part of the nanocrystals bind to the carbon fibers and steady them in the polymer matrix, while the hydrophilic portion help disperse them evenly. The material has applications in a number of industries, including production of airplanes and automobiles, Asadi adds.

The results were published in a recent issue of American Chemical Society Applied Nano Materials.