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Researchers develop biocomposite from date palm fibre

A team of researchers, led by the University of Portsmouth, UK have developed a biocomposite material using date palm fibre biomass that can be used in non-structural parts, such as car bumpers and door linings. The date palm fibre polycaprolactone (PCL) biocomposite is completely biodegradable, renewable, sustainable and recyclable, unlike synthetic composites reinforced by glass and carbon fibres.

The team, which also involved researchers from the University of Cambridge, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), a French public research institute dedicated to agricultural science) and the University of Britanny South tested the mechanical properties of the biocomposite.

A team of researchers, led by the University of Portsmouth, UK have developed a biocomposite material using date palm fibre biomass that can be used in non-structural parts. The date palm fibre polycaprolactone (PCL) biocomposite is completely biodegradable, renewable, sustainable and recyclable (photo courtesy University of Portsmouth).

They found that the date palm fibre PCL had increased tensile strength and achieved better low-velocity impact resistance than traditional man-made composites. The findings have been published in a paper titled “Mechanical properties of leaf sheath date palm fibre waste biomass reinforced polycaprolactone (PCL) biocomposites” in the journal Industrial Crops and Products.

The study is one of the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of the improved mechanical properties of date palm fibre PCL biocomposites.

According to Dr Hom Dhakal, who leads the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (AMM) Research Group at the University of Portsmouth and co-author of the study, investigating the suitability of date palm fibres waste biomass as reinforcement in lightweight composite materials provides “a tremendous opportunity” of utilising this material to develop low-cost, sustainable and lightweight biocomposites.

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 carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The sustainable materials can be produced using less energy than glass and carbon fibres and are biodegradable, therefore easier to recycle, said Dr Dhakal.

Abundant and available natural fibre

Date palm fibres are one of the most available natural fibres in North Africa and the Middle East. Date palm trees produce a large quantity of agriculture waste, which is burned or land-filled, causing serious environmental pollution as well as the destruction of important soil micro-organisms.

The part of the date palm tree which is often used as fibres is the sheath. The sheath is the part of the tree which surrounds the trunk of the plant. It is often torn loose when pruning the leaves.

It’s a long journey, 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, said Dr Dhakal.

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 Composite Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing, explored the potential of waste leaf sheath date palm fibres for composite reinforcement.

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