Spray dried cellulose nanofibers produced using various wood pulp feedstocks and their effects on polypropylene composite properties

D.J. Gardner, S. Hwang, Y. Han
University of Maine,
United States

Keywords: cellulose nanofibers, polypropylene, composites, properties


Bleached Kraft pulp (BKP), unbleached Kraft pulp (UKP), and old corrugated cardboard pulp (OCC) are excellent feedstock sources for producing CNF suspensions manufactured by mechanical disk refining. The CNF drying operation should be performed to produce dry powders that can be compounded into thermoplastic matrices, and spray drying is fast, simple, cost-effective, and scalable. Among several spray-drying techniques, the pilot scale-rotary disk atomizer has many advantages, including large capacities, drying efficiency, and less feed blockage. In this study, BKP, UKP, and OCC pulps fibrillated to 90 % and 100 % fines levels were spray-dried using a pilot-scale rotary disk atomizer. The high-quality micrometer scale, round-shaped powders were produced from all feedstock sources, and a smaller particle size powder was produced with the higher fibrillated pulps. The spray-dried cellulose nanofibrils (SDCNFs) were compounded into a polypropylene (PP) matrix as a reinforcing material, and maleic anhydride-grafted polypropylene (MAPP) was used as a coupling agent. A masterbatch was used for the optimal dispersion and distribution of SDCNFs and MAPP in the PP matrix. It was concluded that the tensile and flexural properties increased as the particle size of SDCNFs increased, and the impact strength increased as the particle size decreased. The tensile strength, tensile modulus, flexural strength, flexural modulus, and impact strength increased by up to 29 %, 66 %, 15 %, 27 %, and 11 % respectively, compared to the neat PP after adding 10 wt% of SDCNFs with MAPP to the PP matrix.