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High modulus biocomposites via additive manufacturing: Cellulose nanofibril networks as “microsponges”...

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Composites Part B: Engineering
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For the successful transition of additive manufacturing (AM) from prototyping to manufacturing of structural load bearing parts, feedstock systems with improved mechanical properties are needed. In terms of sustainability and environmental impact, selection of biobased renewable alternatives instead of petroleum-based options is important. Nanocellulose, which gives plants and trees their structural integrity, can offer significant improvements in the mechanical properties of AM polymers, provided that the right fibril morphology, dispersion and adhesion are achieved. In this study, although the interfacial adhesion between the hydrophilic cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) and the hydrophobic polylactate matrix was not strong, and the optimal dispersion in individual fibril level was not attained, dramatic improvements in mechanical properties of neat polymer were achieved (up to 80% tensile strength increase, up to 200% elastic modulus increase). An interlocking reinforcing mechanism in which CNF bundles act as “microsponges” was proposed and supported by high resolution electron microscopy images, x-ray computed chromatography scans and thermal and dynamic mechanical behavior. Additively manufactured samples showed significantly higher elastic modulus (7.12 GPa vs. 6.57 GPa at 30 wt % CNF content) and dramatically improved storage modulus (1.72 GPa vs. 0.9 GPa at 30 wt % CNF content) in the printing direction compared to compression molded samples. In conclusion, preparation and 3D-printing of a 100% biobased renewable feedstock material with substantial mechanical property improvements were successfully demonstrated, which can open up new window of opportunities in the AM industry.