Developing and Characterizing New Materials Based on Natural Fibres and Waste Plastic
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Natural Fibre Composites (NFCs) offer new opportunities to mitigate negative impact of engineering activities on the environment. Due to their lost cost, light weight and environmental benefits, they find applications in building, furniture and automotive industry. This study seeks to improve mechanical properties of composites made from waste recyclable plastics and natural fibres from agricultural byproduct sources such as Agave americana leaves, corn, wheat and seed flax straws. The approach used is a holistic one which includes investigating the availability and properties of natural fibres and their composites with waste plastic for use in Canada and Lesotho, a small country in Southern Africa. The social and environmental implications of using these materials are also investigated. In both Lesotho and Canada, there are enough raw materials which can be used in NFCs if the necessary environment is developed. The unique microstructural and interfacial behaviour of Agave americana fibres were investigated and their possible impact on the composites forecasted. Composites made with a variety of underutilized natural fibres: Agave americana, corn, seed flax and wheat were also manufactured and tested. The addition of natural fibres and milled straw to the waste plastic improved mainly the tensile and flexural moduli of the composites. The environmental properties of NFCs were also analyzed through a case study using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as tool. The results suggest that NFCs could be seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative than conventional composites.