From clay to strong and lightweight composite materials

Scientists from 4 Asian universities, namely Sri Ramakrishna Engineering College, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences, and Newcastle University in Singapore have reported a novel way to produce lightweight reinforced resin composite materials using clay particles with the potential to lower carbon emission, compared to conventional carbon particles.

From clay to light-weight and strong composite materials

An international team of researchers, led by Dr. Umar Abdul Hanan (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM)) has successfully developed a method that uses montmorillonite (clay) particles to reinforce resin composites. 

Unsaturated polyester (UP) resin is a low cost thermoset with excellent processing ability and mechanical properties that finds applications in fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) materials. It also crosslinks readily in the presence of a catalyst such ketone peroxide, forming an even stronger and stiffer resin. Unfortunately, this also leads to lower fracture toughness. Several methods to enhance the toughness of the cross-linked resin have been proposed; one such method involved blending with nano-fillers made from rubber but this reduces the strength and stiffness of the resin.

Here, for the first time, the team has demonstrated that nano-clay composite made from unsaturated polyester (UP) blended with montmorillonite (MMT) clay nanoparticles of high compressive strength, stiffness and toughness could be achieved by optimising the filler content. The blending process was straight-forward, involving a simple mechanical stirring and ultrasonic agitation process, followed by the degassing process in the vacuum gas chamber to remove air bubbles, and crosslinking the UP using methyl ethyl ketone peroxide. The optimisation process involved characterising the composite (pre- and post fracture) under a transmission electron microscope to quantify the dispersion of the MMT in the crosslink UP matrix. This study demonstrated that the optimum weight fraction of MMT needed to maximise the compressive properties was around 0.60 wt%. In other words, about 99.4 wt% of the bulk comprised the crosslink UP.This yields a lightweight and strong polymer composite material.

The clay reinforced polymer composite material may find applications as primary load carrying structures in transport industry with fuel saving advantage. This can help support the transport indutry drive to reduce green house gas emission into the environment.

The work has been published in Polymer Composites. The paper can be viewed at https:// DOI: 10.1002/pc.27041

The other members of the team are Professor Shukur Abu Hassan (Director of CACM, UTM), Professor Mat Uzir Wahit (CACM, UTM), Dr JS Binoj (Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences (SIMATS)), Professor Bright Brailson Mansingh (Sri Ramakrishna Engineering College) and Professor Kheng Lim Goh (Newcastle University in Singapore). 

For further details and enquiry on potential collaboration, please contact Dr. B. Brailson Mansingh at [email protected], Dr. J. S. Binoj at [email protected], or Dr Kheng Lim Goh at [email protected].

Published: 30 Nov 2022

Contact details:

Dr Kheng Lim Goh

172A Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 #05-01
SIT Building @ Nanyang Polytechnic
Singapore 567739

+65 6908 6073
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The authors would like to thank Universiti Teknologi Malaysia for the provided facilities and the financial support specifically the Research Grant no. R.J130000.7309.4B548.