In August 2014, Dr. Drelich visited the Military Institute of Engineering (MIE) in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and established a research collaboration with this institute in the area of natural fibers and composite materials. At that time he started to to write a review paper with collaborators from Brazil as well as Turkey. This review has been just published in the Polymer Reviews journal and is entitled “Re-emerging field of lignocellulosic fiber – polymer composites and ionizing radiation technology in their formulation“.
Natural cellulose-based fibers offer low cost, low density composite reinforcement with good strength and stiffness. Because of their annual renewability and biodegradability, natural fibers have materialized as environmentally-friendly alternatives to synthetic fibers in the last two decades. They are replacing synthetic materials in some traditional composites in industrial manufacturing sectors such as automotive, construction, furniture, and other consumer goods. In this work, the use of lignocellulosic fibers in green materials engineering, particularly their application as polymeric composite reinforcement and surface treatment via ionizing radiation, are reviewed. Because these cellulose-based materials are intrinsically hydrophilic, they require surface modification to improve their affinity for hydrophobic polymeric matrices, which enhances the strength, durability, and service lifetime of the resulting lignocellulosic fiber-polymer composites. In spite of a long history of using chemical methods in the modification of material surfaces, including the surface of lignocellulosic fibers, recent research leans instead towards application of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation methods are considered superior to chemical methods, as they are viewed as clean, energy saving, and environmentally friendly. Recent applications of controlled ionizing radiation doses in the formulation of natural fiber – reinforced polymeric composites resulted in products with enhanced fiber-polymer interfacial bonding without affecting the inner structure of lignocellulosic fibers. These applications are critically reviewed in this contribution.