Plastination, which was once employed to preserve bodies, is now utilized to reinforce biocomposites.
Researchers at UBC Okanagan have repurposed a technology used to embalm human remains to improve the characteristics of biocomposites and make them stronger.
According to UBCO Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Abbas Milani, “with the discovery of new materials and green composites, it’s easy to ignore materials like bamboo and other natural fibers.” Clothing, the automobile sector, packaging, and construction are just a few of the applications for these fibers.
His research group has now discovered a means to not only reinforce these fibers, but also to lessen their tendency to disintegrate over time, making them even more eco-friendly.
“Bamboo has nearly the same strength as a mild steel while exhibiting more flexibility. With its low weight, cost, and abundant availability, bamboo is a material that has great promise but until now had one big drawback.”says Dr. Milani, the founding director of the Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute.
Bamboo has roughly the same strength as mild steel but is more flexible, explains Dr. Milani, the Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute’s founding director. “Bamboo is a material with a lot of potential because of its low weight, low cost, and wide availability, but it has one major problem.”
Bamboo is one of the most widely collected and utilized natural fibers in the world, with about 30 million tonnes harvested each year. However, due to moisture absorption and weathering, its natural fibers can absorb water and degrade and weaken over time.
The bamboo is dehydrated using a technique known as plastination before being used as a reinforcement with other fibers and materials by the research team.The material is then cured to create a new high-performance hybrid biocomposite.
Plastination, first invented by Gunther von Hagens in 1977 for the long-term preservation of animal, human, and fungal remains, has now made its way into innovative materials applications. According to Daanvir Dhir, the report’s co-author and recent UBC Okanagan graduate, plastination maintains the composite material’s resilience for both short- and long-term use.
Dhir explains, “The plastinated-bamboo composite was blended with glass and polymer fibers to form a material that is lighter and more durable than comparable composites.” “There have been no previous studies evaluating the utilization of such plastinated natural fibers in synthetic fiber reinforced polymer composites,” says the researcher.
Dhir believes that this innovative plastination-treated hybrid bamboo/woven glass fiber/polypropylene composite has a bright future.
The research, which was supported by industrial partner NetZero Enterprises Inc., indicates that adding a modest amount of plastinated elements to the bamboo composite can boost its impact absorption capacity while maintaining its elastic qualities. This also reduces the rate of breakdown of the substance.
According to Dhir, more work is needed to optimize this process because plastination is currently time-consuming. However, he points out that finding the proper composition of plastinated natural fibers will result in a significant reduction in non-degradable waste in many industries, as well as a lower environmental impact.
Other natural fibers, such as flax and hemp, will be plastinated in the future, and the effects will be investigated. The researchers also recommend that the materials be subjected to a life cycle analysis and compared to non-plastinated samples in various applications. This will provide us a clearer view of the trade-off between environmental impact and mechanical durability.
“Under the circular economy model, biocomposites continue to find new uses,” Dr. Milani said. “The advancements in the processes utilized to create these composites will provide long-term benefits.”
The findings have been published in Composite Structures.
Daanvir K. Dhir, Reeghan Osmond, Kevin Golovin, and Abbas S. Milani, “A high-performance hybrid green composite employing plastinated bamboo fillers, with minimal environmental degradation effect,” Composite Structures, December 17, 2021.