Researchers at the University of Portsmouth have developed bio-composite material from waste materials of the date palm fibre. The research team, including researchers from the University of Cambridge, INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, a French public research institute dedicated to agricultural science) and University of Britanny, South made this discovery after testing the mechanical properties of the bio-composite obtained from the fibre.

The bio-composite, called Polycaprolactone (PCL) is completely biodegradable, renewable, sustainable and recyclable and can be used as an alternative for composites that have been strengthened by glass and carbon fibres. The bio-composite will find application in non-structural parts, especially as car bumpers and door linings.

“The impact of this work would be extremely significant because these lightweight alternatives could help reduce the weight of vehicles, contributing to less fuel consumption and fewer C02 emissions. The sustainable materials can be produced using less energy than glass and carbon fibres and are biodegradable, therefore easier to recycle,” said Dr Hom Dhakal, who led the research team, the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (AMM) Research group at the University. The University of Portsmouth is one of the UK’s foremost institution for research and innovation and was rated ‘Gold’ in the UK government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The research is one of the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of the properties of the date palm fibre PCL bio-composite. The date fibre is one of the most naturally occurring fibres in the world and is found mainly in North Africa and the Middle East. The waste acquired from the fibre is a well-known environmental pollutant when it is burnt or land-filled. In their study into the properties of the PCL material, the researchers discovered that it had increased sterile strength and achieved better low-velocity impact resistance than traditional synthetic composites.

Dr Dhakal, who also co-authored the study of the bio-composite highlighted the advantage of this new discovery. “Investigating the suitability of date palm fibres waste biomass as reinforcement in lightweight composite materials provides a tremendous opportunity of utilizing this material to develop low-cost, sustainable and lightweight biocomposites,” he said.

Date palm bio-composite

Dr Dhakal and his team have been working closely with industry to test the strength and viability of parts made from sustainable materials, such as date palm, flax, hemp, and jute fibres. The AMM Research Group has been working in collaboration with researchers from institutions from around the world.

In the last 18 months, the group has published many high impact factor papers in journals including the Composites Science and Technology, Composites Part A and Composites Part B.

A recent collaborative study, published in the Journal of Composite Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing explored the potential of waste leaf sheath date palm fibres for composite reinforcement. The part often used as fibres in the date palm is its sheath; the part of the tree that protects the trunk of the date plant.

“It’s a long journey,” says Dr Dhakal, “and we have to have patience and perseverance to make an impact. The challenge is getting consistent, reliable properties. It takes a long time to convince people to use a new class of materials, such as natural fibre reinforced composites for non-structural and structural applications.

“Meeting these challenges requires further research and innovation between academic institutions and industry,” he concluded.

This discovery will impact the construction industry and aid the fight against climate change. Due to the non-biodegradable nature of glass and carbon fibres, they create a problem for the environment. Carbon fibres especially are wasteful to produce and difficult to recycle. A report by Green Alliance, an environmental NGO, in 2017 says that “one of several novel materials that could create waste problems in the future unless swift action is taken to make it ready for recycling and reuse.”

This problem can easily be solved if construction and manufacturing companies adopt the use of the PCL bio-composites for their products. It protects the environment, is low-cost, sustainable and lightweight and also gives their products increased sterile strength and better low-velocity impact resistance.

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