Natural Kenaf Fiber Reinforced Composites as Engineered Structural Materials

Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

West Virginia University

Cedarville University School or Department

Engineering and Computer Science


The objective of this work was to provide a comprehensive evaluation of natural fiber reinforced polymer (NFRP)'s ability to act as a structural material.;As a chemical treatment, aligned kenaf fibers were treated with sodium hydroxide (alkalization) in different concentrations and durations and then manufactured into kenaf fiber / vinyl ester composite plates. Single fiber tensile properties and composite flexural properties, both in dry and saturated environments, were assessed.;Based on ASTM standard testing, a comparison of flexural, tensile, compressive, and shear mechanical properties was also made between an untreated kenaf fiber reinforced composite, a chemically treated kenaf fiber reinforced composite, a glass fiber reinforced composite, and oriented strand board (OSB). The mechanical properties were evaluated for dry samples, samples immersed in water for 50 hours, and samples immersed in water until saturation (~2700 hours).;Since NFRPs are more vulnerable to environmental effects than synthetic fiber composites, a series of weathering and environmental tests were conducted on the kenaf fiber composites. The environmental conditions studied include real-time outdoor weathering, elevated temperatures, immersion in different pH solutions, and UV exposure. In all of these tests, degradation was found to be more pronounced in the NFRPs than in the glass FRPs; however, in nearly every case the degradation was less than 50% of the flexural strength or stiffness.;Using a method of overlapping and meshing discontinuous fiber ends, large mats of fiber bundles were manufactured into composite facesheets for structural insulated panels (SIPs). The polyisocyanurate foam cores proved to be poorly matched to the strength and stiffness of the NFRP facesheets, leading to premature core shear or delamination failures in both flexure and compressive testing.;The NFRPs were found to match well with the theoretical stiffness prediction methods of classical lamination theory, finite element method, and Castigliano's method in unidirectional tension and compression, but are less accurate for the more bond-dependent flexural and shear properties. With the acknowledged NFRP matrix bonding issues, the over-prediction of these theoretical models indicates that the flexural stiffness of the kenaf composite may be increased by up to 40% if a better bond between the fiber and matrix can be obtained.;The sustainability of NFRPs was examined from two perspectives: environmental and socioeconomic. While the kenaf fibers themselves possess excellent sustainability characteristics, costing less while possessing a lesser environmental impact than the glass fibers, the vinyl ester resin used in the composites is environmentally hazardous and inflated the cost and embodied energy of the composite SIPs. Consistent throughout all the designs was a correlation between the respective costs of the raw materials and the respective environmental impacts.;The socioeconomic study looked at the sustainability of natural fiber reinforced composite materials as housing materials in developing countries. A literature study on the country of Bangladesh, where the fibers in this study were grown, showed that the jute and kenaf market would benefit from the introduction of a value-added product like natural fiber composites. The high rate of homeless and inadequately housed in Bangladesh, as well as in the US and throughout the rest of the world, could be somewhat alleviated if a new, affordable, and durable material were introduced. While this study found that natural fiber composites possess sufficient mechanical properties to be adopted as primary structural members, the two major remaining hurdles needing to be overcome before natural fiber composites can be adopted as housing materials are the cost and sustainability of the resin system and the moisture resistance/durability of the fibers. (Abstract shortened by UMI.).