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Graphene-enhanced jute fibres could lead to sustainable and multifunctional composites for high performance engineering applications

An international research team, led by Bangladeshi scientist and engineer Dr Nazmul Karim, also an Associate Professor at University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol- has revealed multifunctional and environmentally sustainable smart composites of graphene‐enhanced natural jute fibers with excellent properties.

The research paper titled  ‘Sustainable and Multifunctional Composites of Graphene‐Based Natural Jute Fibers’ has recently been published in Wiley Online Library, one of the largest and most authoritative collections of online journals, books, and research resources.

Dr Nazmul Karim completed his BSc in Textile Technology from Bangladesh University of Textiles (BUTex), Dhaka. He also obtained his MSc and PhD in Textile Science and Technology from the University of Manchester. He then worked as KE Fellow (Graphene) at the National Graphene Institute (NGI), The University of Manchester. At NGI, he led graphene-based high-performance functional clothing, sustainable composites and wearable e-textiles research activities at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) of University of Manchester (UK) with Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Kostya S Novoselov. Dr Karim is currently work as an Associate Professor at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), UWE Bristol (UK). At CFPR, he is leading a research team to investigate into graphene and other 2D materials-based technologies aimed at developing scalable and cost-effective next generation wearable electronic textiles (e-textiles), sustainable natural fibre composites and environmentally sustainable functional clothing. He is also an honorary Technical Editor of Bangladesh Textile Today.

Figure 1: Bangladeshi scientist and engineer Dr Nazmul Karim, currently working as an Associate Professor at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), UWE Bristol (UK).

The research could lead to  the use of jute for various applications, and could boost the farming economies of developing countries such as Bangladesh, China and India, where it is mostly produced. Jute is a 100% bio‐degradable, recyclable, and environmentally friendly natural fiber.

The breakthrough could lead to the manufacturing of high-performance and environmentally friendly natural fibre composites that could replace their synthetic counterparts in major manufacturing areas, such as the automotive industry, ship building, durable wind turbine blades and low-cost housing.

Dr Karim said “Jute, once known as the golden fibres of Bangladesh, lost its glaze in the 1980s after synthetic materials like polythene and plastics were introduced. However, with growing environmental concerns with plastics, the use of natural fibres such as Jute is on rise again.

“The use of jute in automobile interiors by global car giants has been growing rapidly with a current demand of 100,000 tonnes a year. I believe our graphene-based jute fibres could play a very important role in meeting the growing demand of more sustainable and multifunctional products for various industries.”

According to the research, the reduced graphene oxide‐based natural jute fiber enhances the Young’s modulus of the composites by ≈450%, and tensile strength by ≈183% after physical and chemical treatment. Such high‐performance composites can also be used as multifunctional smart composites, as demonstrated by effective electro‐magnetic interference (EMI) shielding performance. This may lead to manufacturing of next generation smart, strong, and sustainable natural fiber composites for high performance engineering applications without conferring environmental problems.

Figure 2: Schematic diagram showing rGO coating process on jute fibers and the preparation of rGO‐coated jute fibers preforms.

Millions of people, especially from developing countries are involved in natural fiber industries, and as such, fiber‐based products are processed and manufactured in many small and large industries around the world. Thus, the economic impact of the consumption of natural fiber‐based products has been quite significant. For example, Jute is the second most produced natural fiber in the world after cotton (≈3.63 million tonnes annually), and at least ≈50% cheaper than flax and other similar natural fibers.

However, natural fibers lost its glaze with the introduction of cheaper and high‐performance synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon for textile applications, and glass and carbon fiber for composites applications. Nevertheless, with growing environmental concerns with plastics and synthetic fibers, the use of natural fibers such as jute is on the rise again.

Smart and sustainable natural fiber‐based composites are of great interest due to their biodegradability, recyclability, and environmental benefits over synthetic fiber composites. In addition, the environmental impact of plastics and synthetic fibers are widespread and substantial, as they can stay in the environment for hundreds of years and contribute significantly to global carbon emissions.

Therefore, there is a pressing need for sustainable, biodegradable, and lightweight materials for structural composite applications that would offer unprecedented combinations of stiffness, strength and toughness at low density, and could be manufactured at high volume and low cost. Natural fiber composites have shown great potential to replace synthetic fiber‐based composites, due to their higher specific mechanical properties, good thermal and acoustic insulation, and smaller carbon foot print. Jute, known as the “golden fiber” which is inherently electrically insulating, which limits their application as multifunctional composites, when electrical conductivity is required.

Conversely, graphene demonstrates multifunctional properties such as large specific surface areas, high electrical and thermal conductivity, and excellent mechanical properties. In addition, graphene derivatives such as reduced graphene oxide (rGO) can not only be produced in a scalable and cost‐effective way, but also be grafted into natural fiber via suitable bondings. Thus, graphene‐based materials are ideal candidate for making “smart” natural fiber‐reinforced composites with capability of electro‐magnetic interference (EMI) shielding, structural health monitoring (SHM), de‐icing, and energy storage, according to the research.

Figure 3: Schematic diagram of EMI shielding mechanism and graphene‐based natural jute composites.

“In our previous studies, graphene materials such as graphene oxide (GO) and graphene flakes (G) were deposited on jute fibers which improved tensile and interfacial properties significantly. However, GO is electrically insulating and not suitable for “smart” composite applications; whereas G flakes are almost without any oxygen‐containing functional groups, and suffer from poor interfacial properties due to the absence of a suitable bonding with natural fibers,” the research team reported.

“Thus, rGO could be an ideal material for making high performance, multifunctional, and environmentally sustainable natural fiber composites. It could provide excellent mechanical properties due to specific interaction between residual oxygen functional groups of rGO and that of natural fibers, as well as imparting electrical and thermal properties required to make next generation “smart” composites,” they explained.

Of the authors Dr Nazmul Karim conceived, planned, and designed the study. Dr Forkan Sarker prepared graphene‐coated jute fibers under Dr Nazmul Karim ‘s guidance. Dr Forkan Sarker developed, prepared and characterised jute fibre composites, and performed measurements, and data analysis for those samples under Dr Prasad Potluri ‘s supervision. Dr Shaila Afroj developed, prepared, and characterized rGO and graphene dispersions, and performed XPS analysis of rGO and graphene‐coated jute fibers under supervision of Dr Kostya S. Novoselov and Dr Nazmul Karim. EMI shielding measurements were carried out and analyzed by Minglonghai Zhang and Dr Nazmul Karim, respectively. Dr Nazmul Karim performed analysis and discussed on sustainability and environmental impacts. Dr Nazmul Karim wrote the manuscript with inputs from Dr Forkan Sarker, Dr Shaila Afroj, Dr Kostya S. Novoselov, Dr Prasad Potluri, and Minglonghai Zhang. The supporting information was prepared by Dr Forkan Sarker with inputs from Dr Nazmul Karim.

Figure:  DR Forkan Sarker,
Assistant Professor, Dhaka University of Engineering and Technology (DUET)

Addendum (Dated: 20 January 2021):

Dr Forkan Sarker, Assistant Professor, Dhaka University of Engineering and Technology (DUET)–was in the research team–said in a message to Textile Today that he was one of the contributors in the development of multi-functional jute fibre composites.

He said that during his PhD at Manchester University under commonwealth scholarship, he developed a novel dry jute fibre architecture for the first time to manufacture high-performance natural fibre composites.

Before this development, he worked for 4 years on jute fibre in Bangladesh and in the UK under UNIDO Best Fellowship program to remove the fundamental problems with jute fibre, Dr Sarker added.


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