Scientists from The University of Manchester have combined graphene with the natural fiber jute, to create graphene-strengthened natural jute fiber composites. The team explains that this could lead to the manufacturing of high-performance and environmentally friendly natural fiber composites that could replace their synthetic counterparts in major manufacturing areas, like the automotive industry, ship building, durable wind turbine blades and more.

Manchester team adds graphene to just fibers image

It could also boost the farming economies of countries such as Bangladesh, India, and China – where the jute material is mainly produced – the researchers from The University of Manchester claim. Jute is extracted from the bark of the white jute plant (Corchorus capsularis) and is a 100% bio-degradable, recyclable and environmentally friendly natural fiber. It is also the second most produced natural fiber in the world – after cotton – and is at least 50% cheaper than flax and other similar natural fibers.

Despite their environmental advantages, natural fiber composites often suffer from poor mechanical and interfacial properties, which means they’re not strong enough for some industrial applications. That is why researchers from The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute (NGI) and Robotics and Textile Composites Group have been working on a collaborative project and coating jute fibers with graphene oxide and graphene flakes to improve its strength.

The results have been extremely positive and show that the jute fibers with a graphene coating have enhanced interfacial shear strength of around 200%, with flexural strength increasing by nearly 100% when compared to the untreated fibers.

Dr Nazmul Karim, Knowledge Exchange Fellow (Graphene) at National Graphene Institute, said: “We have been working on graphene and other 2D materials-based natural fibers for several years in Prof Novoselov’s group. It is great to translate that experience into developing high performance natural fibers composites”.

Dr Karim, who also conceived the idea and designed the experiments of incorporating graphene onto jute, added: “Jute, once known as the golden fibers of Bangladesh, lost its glaze in the 1980's after synthetic materials like polythene and plastics were introduced. However, with growing environmental concerns with plastics, the use of natural fibers such as Jute is on rise again". "Moreover, 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 fibers could play a very important role in meeting the growing demand of more environmentally friendly products for various industries.”