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Composite polymers

11 Nov, 2010

Polymers made from corn starch and reinforced with natural fibres such as hemp and harakeke offer sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics and composite materials, as Kim Pickering from Waikato University explains.

Duration: 12:30

Researchers at Waikato University have been investigating the use of natural fibres such as hemp to reinforce composite materials. They’re also looking at bioderived polymers to encase them in. One of the main polymers they are working with is based on polylactide (PLA), which can be derived from corn. PLA has been successfully used on its own as a polymer for making biodegradable bottles. Researchers are working on improving the properties of PLA by reinforcing it with natural fibres, which will also biodegrade.

They’re looking at hemp fibre because it’s one of the stiffest and strongest natural cellulose-based fibres. It’s also lightweight, which makes it easier to build with and more fuel efficient to transport. The challenge for researchers is to make the material water resistant as the fibres are hydrophilic, and once water is absorbed, the material degrades. This limits its use to interior products that are not exposed to moisture.

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